The results from a YouGov survey for Greenpeace will add further pressure on the fisheries minister Richard Benyon to live up to the outcome of last month’s deal over the new EU fisheries policy, which paved the way for more fishing quota to go to those fishermen who operate sustainably, contribute to the local economy, and play by the rules.
A fairer distribution of fishing rights has been the key demand of a ground-breaking joint campaign by Greenpeace and small-scale fishermen, which has seen the iconic icebreaker ship the Arctic Sunrise sail around nine European countries and visit nearly 20 ports over three months.
On her ‘Gulliver tour’, which reached London, its final destination, at the weekend, the Greenpeace ship brought the plight of small boats to the attention of the public and key decision-makers, sparking a huge wave of public support for small-scale fishermen across the continent, with over 110,000 people signing up to a paper boat petition calling for low-impact fishermen to be given a fairer deal.
Under the current system fishing quotas are allocated in fixed amounts to the same larger-scale fishermen on the basis of how much fish they caught in the past – their so-called ‘track record’ – regardless of the environmental, social, and economic impact of their trade. This has led to small-scale British fishermen having access to just four per cent of the UK fishing quota despite making up three quarters of the country’s fleet and being its more sustainable part. Over 95 per cent of Britain’s fishing quota is in the hands of powerful trade associations representing larger vessels, often controlled by interests based overseas.
The YouGov poll indicates a majority of the public would favour a system where the environmental and socio-economic benefits of fishing activities play an important role. Nearly nine out of ten people surveyed (88 per cent) agreed that, in the distribution of quota, priority should be given to those fishermen who either fish sustainably (54 per cent) or bring direct economic benefits to the local economy (eight per cent), or do both (26 per cent).
Two thirds of respondents (67 per cent) also said they care about the environmental impact of how the fish they buy are caught, with two in five (41 per cent) saying they care more about it today than they did ten years ago. The figures point to a widening gap between the way in which fishing rights are allocated and the growing demand from consumers for sustainably caught seafood.
Greenpeace oceans campaigner Simon Clydesdale said: “At a time when consumers’ hunger for sustainable seafood has grown bigger than ever before, you would expect low-impact inshore fishermen to thrive. Instead we have been hearing the same distress signal coming from fishing communities in the UK and across Europe: small-scale fishermen are going under, sunk by a grossly unfair system that is denying them a fair catch.
“This is a totally absurd and unjust situation which cries out for a swift solution. The latest deal struck in Brussels over a new fisheries policy gives our minister a clear mandate to push ahead with a major reshuffle in the distribution of fishing quota, and our survey indicates such a reform would enjoy an overwhelming level of public support. It’s now time for our fisheries minister to grasp the nettle and deliver a better deal for small low-impact boats.”
Over the weekend a group of small-scale British fishermen were joined by a delegation of artisanal fishermen from several European countries aboard the Arctic Sunrise, at berth in the London Docklands, for the handover of a ceremonial ship lantern which has been relayed from fisherman to fisherman as they accompanied the ship across nine different countries.
Jeremy Percy, chief executive of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA), who represents hundreds of small-scale fishermen in the UK, commented: “Decades of disastrous UK and EU fishing policies have turned under-10-metre fishermen, who make up the largest part of our fleet and fish in a low-impact way, into an endangered species. But the tidal wave of public support generated by the Greenpeace tour and the good news from Brussels have given us hope that this broken system can be fixed. We need a new way of allocating fishing rights that gives the best return for our local communities and our seas, and I’m confident the fisheries minister will work hard to make it happen.”