Minister is told of fishermen’s fears

THE controversial fishing quota system that limits catch sizes in the North Sea must be reformed or scores of small boat-owners on the east coast will be driven out of the industry for good, a minister was told.

A delegation of Lowestoft fishermen travelled to Westminster to meet fisheries minister Richard Benyon last week for a meeting organised by Waveney MP Peter Aldous at The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The fisherman aired their concerns about the dire situation facing Lowestoft's under-10m fishing fleet – pointing out that small boats were environmentally friendly as they discarded virtually no fish, and this meant quotas worked against the conservation.

Mr Benyon said he would like to see the ideas of fishermen developed and agreed that the whole quota system needed reform.

He favoured 'a multi-annual plan' that trusted fishermen to run a self-policing scheme free from the burden of regulation, he said.

Later in the day Mr Aldous spoke at a Westminster Hall debate at which he continued to argue the point made in an adjournment debate in October that reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was essential to the future of the east coast's fishing industry.

Speaking in the debate, Mr Aldous said: 'These are difficult times for the fishing industry in Lowestoft, in my constituency, and around Britain. In many respects, the industry is in the last-chance saloon. It is up to all of us to ensure that it is sustainable and not only conserves fish stocks but gives our constituents who work in the industry a viable future where they can earn a reasonable living.'

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Mr Aldous pointed to the 'raw deal' faced by the under-10m inshore boats which made up 85pc of the British fleet, but got less than 4pc of the overall quota, and called for an end to the 'obscene practice' of discards which was destroying fish stocks.

'There must be an equitable redistribution of quota to ensure that the inshore fleet is treated fairly. The quota system needs to be put on a more commercial footing, rather than being based on 'grandfather's rights',' he said. 'If necessary, the legal status of quotas needs to be clarified and challenged.'

Afterwards, local fisherman, Ian Lowe thanked Mr Aldous for his support but stressed there was 'a long way to go'.

'We need more fish to catch next year or we will go bust. We need recognition of the fact that we do not discard any fish dead and that our methods are environmentally friendly as we are long liners, not trawlers,' he said.

'The public should be aware of the outrageous waste of their national resource through discards. These discards are caused and driven by the quota system. This problem is further accentuated because the quotas are owned by people who consider our national resource as a commodity and do not care about our fish stocks, but just want the money at the expense of the environment and the fishermen. This is morally wrong'

Mr Aldous pledged to keep lobbying on the boat-owners' behalf and push for a better deal when the CFP is reformed in 2012.

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