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Fishing fleet 'near collapse'

PUBLISHED: 17:46 15 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:03 06 July 2010

THE ENTIRE fleet of small fishing boats along the coast of East Anglia is "on the verge of collapse" due to severe problems with the system of quotas, it has been claimed.

THE ENTIRE fleet of small fishing boats along the coast of East Anglia is “on the verge of collapse” due to severe problems with the system of quotas, it has been claimed.

Operations from Lowestoft to West Mersea and beyond could go out of business because they are filling their Government-designated monthly amounts within days of the start of the month.

And the situation is particularly bad this year because fishermen have not been able to swap their allocations of unwanted quotas, such as prawns, with other countries like Germany as a way of increasing what they can catch.

The problem has become so severe that some are having to tie up their boats and wait for their next quota, or risk being fined tens of thousands of pounds for exceeding their limits.

Under threat are all those who use boats of less than 10metres - which is regarded as a more sustainable form of trawling - but they have just 3pc of the UK's catch quota.

And in the coming months the quota for Dover sole, normally two tonnes, will drop to just 50kg which could “finish” many fishermen off.

Richard Marson, chairman of the Aldeburgh Fishermen's Trade Guild, said that tourism would also suffer if the boats went out of business.

He said: “The fundamental problem is that 'under-10s' have only 3pc of quota allocation, but they are 97pc of the fishing fleet - it's a total misfit, particularly on the east coast where we only have a limited number of species to fish for.

“The significance of the fishing here to tourism is much greater than the economic impact - it is a huge feature of the locality, and unless something can be done about this, the fishermen will be going out of business.”

Mr Marson said a representative from the new Marine Management Organisation - which allocates quotas - acknowledged the problem during a meeting this week.

And Clive Mills, vice-chairman of the West Mersea Fishermen's Association, said quotas for the coming months were so small boats would be out of business until next year.

He estimated at least 80 boats along the coast were under threat and laid the blame with the Government.

He said: “The entire coastal community is on the verge of collapse. I have been to more ministerial meetings than you can shake a stick at but they want to keep this under the carpet.

“It is through lack of forward-thinking, and mismanagement.”

Mr Mills, echoed the thoughts of the Aldeburgh fishermen, saying it was also about the bigger picture.

He said: “We are at the heart of coastal communities and we are what the public want to see - they want British fish caught from our waters.”

He claimed larger operations “call the tune” with Government, leaving the smaller fishermen out in the cold.

“About 30pc of the English fishing quota is in the hands of people who do not even own a fishing boat - they then rent it back to the fishermen, but because of the size of our businesses we cannot afford to rent it,” he said.

Rules governing fair play in the build-up to the General Election meant the Marine Management Organisation was unable to comment on the fishermen's specific concerns.

However, the body explains on its website: “Quotas are set to help achieve the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy for the conservation and sustainable management of fish stocks.

“Member states are responsible for ensuring that landings by their fishing fleets do not exceed their quotas.”

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