Fishing damaged by ‘misleading science’

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BAD science is scuppering Rye’s fishing industry – that is what fishermen told a Government Committee when it met in Hastings last week.

The committee was gathering evidence with the aim of reforming the Common Fisheries Policy and meeting the needs of the UK fishing industry.

Sitting on the committee was Rye MP Amber Rudd.

The meeting, held at Hastings Old Town, addressed issues such as fish discards, centralisation and the plight of the smaller under ten metre boats that fish from Rye and Hastings.

But top of the list of concerns was the unfairness of the quota system, which sees small boats being squeezed out and getting just three percent of the quota.

Fishermen were fiercely critical of scientific methods used to assess fish stocks, claiming they are out of date, inaccurate and do not reflect the current levels of cod stocks that they are encountering.

Fisheries owner Bill Brook said: “There is a lag between what the scientists say and the reality of the situation.

“We are being told there is problem with the levels of cod, plaice and sole and yet those three species are abundant at the moment.

“We have been working with scientists for two decades now and they have not taken a blind bit of notice of us.

“We need to show scientists what we are seeing on a daily basis.”

Paul Joy, Hastings fishermen’s spokesman and co-chair of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association South East, said: “All the scientific date was provided by the over ten metre fleet. There is a massive void in data in this area where the majority of boats are under ten metres.

“If you could work with technical measures that come outside a quota system then great. Technical measures are a way forward, but without quotas.”

David Scott, from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said: “We are not happy about quota being set to scientific assessment if that scientific assessment is not correct. A lot of it is guess-work on the part of the scientists.

“Cod are at the top of the food chain out there. They are eating fish like squid and small sole, which are far more valuable than cod.

“When we have an abundance of stock we need to be able to catch it quickly.

“Scientific assessment has got to be up to date and that should dictate quotas.”

Graham Doswell, chairman of Eastbourne Fishermen’s Association, said: “The low cod quotas we are faced with would result in one days fishing a month.

“There is no real science as to what the stocks are.”

Committee chairman Anne McIntosh said: “We are hearing one thing from the fishermen and another from the scientists.”

Commenting on quotas Paul Joy said: “Seventy six percent of the British fleet is comprised of under ten metre boats and yet we get allocated just three percent of the quota.

“The only way forward is realignment of the quota to give everyone a fair share.

“A re-balance of the quota system is needed. Ninety three percent of vessels in our area are under ten metres. Where are we going to get the fish to keep inshore coastal communities surviving?”

David Scott said: “If quotas were brought up to levels which related to fish stocks it would be ideal.”

Graham Doswell said: “The French have 76 percent of the total allowable catch in our sector.”

Another issue raised at the meeting was that of discards, where fishermen are forced to throw back any fish they catch over their quota and where it has been said that many die. The situation attained national awareness following a high profile campaign by television chef High Fernley—Whiitingstall .

But those speaking at last week’s meeting said the issue had not been reported correctly.

Bill Brook said: “We have been doing a lot of work on the discard survival rate

“It is a great media sound-bite to say discards are a problem, but it is not a problem if the fish are surviving.

“With discards you have to look at individual fisheries and the way they fish – if fish survive then how can they be counted as discards?

“You have to look at protocols and how you use gear to maximise the discard survival rate.

“The only thing a discard ban will do is put people on the dole, it is as simple as that.

“We should always talk about mortality and not discards.”

Paul Joy said: “We have fish and chip shops here selling cod from Iceland and Norway and yet we dump our fish in the harbour – you tell me the logic of that?”

Talking on de-centralisation, Graham Doswell said: “I would like to see us withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy and bring fishing management back to the UK.”

Bill Brook said: “Moving away from the EU would be full supported by the fishing industry.

“What a Frenchman needs and what an Englishman needs are two different things. There is no one-size fits all.”

Amber Rudd said: “What we are interested in is getting an improved management structure.”

Paul Joy said: “Our ability to survive in the small boat sector is down to diversification.

“Flexibility is the main key.”