PFA President Tim Heddema informs MEPs about state of play of sustainable fisheries management in NE Atlantic
On Tuesday 14 June, Pelagic Freezer-trawler Association (PFA) President Tim Heddema gave a presentation at a public hearing of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee on the state of play and experience with management in the Northeast Atlantic.
1. The direct economic impact of the loss of fishing rights
2. Bilateral cooperation with the UK as an independent coastal state
3. The impact of the UK becoming an independent coastal state on the relations between the coastal states around the Northeast Atlantic Ocean
4. The possible renegotiation of the fisheries agreement under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement
Unfortunately, meetings between old friends, whether government officials, scientists or industry representatives, have inevitably become less frequent. UK counterparts have also had to leave European industry bodies and Advisory Councils. And tragically, the UK government takes a less than constructive approach to EU-UK fisheries cooperation, choosing to forego proper consultation of the EU and its stakeholders before introducing new policies and management measures.
Having an additional coastal state at the negotiating table naturally makes such negotiations more difficult. Especially since this new coastal state, similarly to Norway, is striving for zonal attachment as the primary criterion on which to base a sharing arrangement for mackerel (and possibly blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring as well), instead of historical track records and economic interest. This is cherry-picking at its finest, since scientists agree that there are too many data gaps and uncertainties to be able to paint a clear picture of the geographic distribution of the stock throughout all zones and life stages.
Heddema also addressed the actions of other coastal states like Norway and the Faroe Islands, who continue to set excessive unilateral quotas that make the total actual catches far exceed, by as much as 40 percent, the total fishing opportunities agreed by the coastal states in line with scientific advice:
“As a result, we have been without an agreement on joint management for some time and without an MSC label for these fisheries. The EU seems to be the only one that wants to continue to use the 2014 distribution key as in recent years, and because of that sustainable approach, we can be extra proud of its track record.”
Heddema pointed out that this behaviour puts unacceptable pressure on the mackerel stock and that it would be to the credit of NGOs that tend to approach the EU critically, to also speak out about these actions. But more importantly, the EUmust take a firmer stance than it has done so far. Playing nice has a sell-by date.
The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the EU and the UK contains a review clause regarding mutual access for fisheries after 5½ years. This short horizon has created lasting uncertainty for European fishers and shipowners and therefore also a barrier to investing in vessels and innovations. In case the UK would consider unilaterally changing access arrangements and even quota shares, the EU should be prepared to meet these with tough countermeasures. Using its power as the main market for UK (seafood) exports has worked well in the Brexit negotiations.
When it comes to access to UK waters, the EU must continue to present the facts and fight unjustified discrimination of vessels. All segments of the EU fleet are at risk of being banned on the basis of political opportunism. Heddema gave the example that freezer-trawlers from PFA members are often the target of (false) arguments such as that large vessels or ‘supertrawlers’ are less sustainable than smaller vessels.
The PFA continues to tell the fact-based story about freezer-trawlers: our members’ vessels are specialized to fish large quantities of fish from stocks that constitute a huge biomass. They fish within quota, with a very solid scientific basis and with an ecological footprint that per kilo of product is the smallest of all forms of animal protein production. The fishing is selective and efficient because of the large, homogeneous shoals of fish and the freezing capacity on board. That takes up 70% of the space and allows fishing trips to be much longer, with less fuel consumption. This ensures that the quality remains good for direct human consumption and the daily provision of 6 million affordable meals.
Heddema concluded his speech with the important statement that fact-free arguments should not determine the future of fish stocks and our fishers.