The New Economics Foundation takes a regular look at the fishing industry:
“Next week fishers, policymakers, and interest groups will be meeting to plan the ‘future of the inshore fisheries’. This is a chance to consider proposals that would work for the whole industry and wider society.”
This is the latest piece from the NEF’s Griffin Carpenter – also published on the Bright Blue’s Conservation Conversation blog:
The accidental privatisation of fishing quota has hurt coastal communities: With a new Fisheries Bill we can change this
Ever since the Brexit referendum we’ve heard a lot about ‘our fish’. No one truly owns the fish in the sea – fish eggs and fast swimmers prevent ear tags from working here – but for the purposes of management, fish are fundamentally a public resource owned by all of us. In the UK, neglect over marine resources has seen them accidentally privatised, but there is now an opportunity to change this.
Commercial fisheries in the UK are predominantly managed through quota limits – a cap on the amount of fish that can be harvested in a given year. These quota limits are agreed annually by EU fishing ministers, distributed to Member States in fixed shares, and then distributed by Member States to their fishing fleet according to national legislation. Brexit does not change this – the UK has always had this power over what happens with fishing quota.
Whether the UK has used this power is another story. The UK governments (fishing is a devolved matter) originally allocated quota based on historical catch records in the 1980s (a process that rewarded those overfishing the most and penalised the small-scale fleet which were not required to keep catch records at the time). Since this point these quota allocations became ‘fixed’ in the 1990s and continue today as ‘fixed quota allocations’ (FQAs).
UK fishing quota had, unbeknownst to the public, become accidentally privatised: as a court ruled in 2012 a “legitimate expectation” around FQAs had formed, despite this expectation being “built very much of sand” as “no one can own the fish of the sea”. With an estimated value of £1.1 billion, researchers cite this ownership claim as the largest “squatting claim” in UK history.
This transfer from public control into private hands is not just shocking for its value, but also for the significance for marine resources and the little scrutiny it has received. Successive governments have promised to do more for small fishing communities, but without quota reallocation the trend to centralise in large ports will continue. There are calls to allocate FQAs based on social and environmental criteria, but again, without reallocation, there is no opportunity for this.
Although managing fishing quota has always been up to UK governments, the fact that a UK Fisheries Bill is coming – we assume at some point – gives an opportunity to change policy and reclaim fishing quota as a public resource and allocate it for public good…
There is an archive of material on the Futures Forum blog:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and a fishing industry dominated by a handful of giant and often foreign-owned companies using big boats > because the UK government in the 1980s significantly underestimated the contribution made by small fishing vessels to the industry and consequently allocated them a tiny proportion of the quota.