The incoming chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, Mike Cohen believes that despite the varied and often fragmented nature of the UK’s fishing industry can present a united front and work together.
He said that while often in the past there have been conflicts between sections of the industry such as between the static gear and the mobile gear fishermen, the inshore and the offshore sections, there does not have to be antagonism and that they can all work with each other to build a stronger and more sustainable industry.
He said there needs to be an interaction between the fisheries and the other users of the sea.
Mr Cohen, who is a marine scientist and is at present CEO of the Holderness Fishing Industry Group on the east coast of England, said that management decisions need to be based on science.
He said that all too often in the past decisions on fishery management have been made by organisations that have certain agendas that are not based on sound science.
“There are a lot of debated between the inshore and the offshore fisheries and the static gear and mobile gear fisheries. We need to look at unity in the fishing industry,” he said.
One of the major issues that the UK and EU fishing sector is facing at present is the implementation of the new EU discard policy, or landing obligation policy.
From the beginning of 2015 the pelagic and industrial fisheries, Baltic salmon fisheries and fisheries for cod all came under the landing obligation, which bans discarding undersized fish and forces fishermen to land fish of all sizes and declare them under quota.
However, none of the undersized fish are allowed into the human food chain.
The policy is soon to be extended to demersal, or flat fish.
“The policy has been introduced in a knee-jerk way” said Mr Cohen.
He added that the problem is going to be for those with small quotas that will be quickly filled under the new regulations.
“Are their boats going to be tied up for the rest of the season as soon as they meet the quota?” Mr Cohen asked.
He said that the way the policy is being implemented is not sustainable for the industry particularly when scientific advice shows “increasingly healthy stocks”.
He said that the whole of the industry wants to see discards reduced, but the way the present policy is being approached was not working.
“We are bringing catches in to be discarded on the land. We are seeing a lot of unexpected consequences,” Mr Cohen said.
He said that there is a concern that much of the European funds that have been issued for the development of a sustainable fishing sector is to be used in implementing the discards policy.
He said how the policy is to be put in place and how it will work should have been worked out beforehand and money designed to support economic and sustainable growth should not be used.
“It seems a strange way of going about things” he said.
However, he hoped that there is still room for negotiation in the policy to make it work for the industry.
Mr Cohen said that there is also concern in the sector over the way that the bass stocks are going to be managed and he said he is concerned that he same mistakes that were made over the management of cod stocks is likely to be made over bass.
“We must make sure we don’t make the mistakes that were made with cod, with bass. We need a more measured approach,” he said.
“We have seen the mistakes with cod and we don’t want to repeat them.”
He said that stock management needs to be handled on a regional and local basis with specific measures rather than a blanket ban.
Mr Cohen said that while in his own region of East Yorkshire he had seen the fishing fleet transform and now there is a thriving shellfish industry in the area, in other areas where the dishing fleet has contracted there have been serious social and economic consequences.
He said that stock management measures around the UK need to be examined regionally and there needs to be research into the stock mobility and the species that are being targeted.
He said he would welcome money being put into research and in his own area of Holderness, the industry had carried out its own studies of crab and lobsters stocks and also the effects of windfarm construction on fisheries and stocks.
“We need the best possible data in the hands of those who are making the decisions,” he said.
“We need accurate data for good localised management. There has to be a local answer to stock management.”
Here he said bass is a good example of what needs to be done to manage the stocks rather than taking a broad brush approach.
Mr Cohen said there are similar concerns over the introduction of Marine Conservation Zones around the UK because, he said, it is unclear exactly what they mean.
He said the regulations surrounding them are “filled with red herrings and misconceptions”.
He said that every square inch of the sea is protected in one way or another but he described the Marine Conservation Zones as “an unknown”.
He said the consequences of the zones are unclear and he was concerned that these measures are the only ones that have been sent out for public consultation.
He was also concerned that it is unclear whether the rules apply to all activities including those such as container ship anchoring and gravel dredging.
“It comes back to fishing all the time,” he said.
He added that the first series of marine conservation zones do not have management measures in place a year after the zones have been announced.
He said that if the industry does not know what the rules are going to be and how the zones will be managed, then the fisheries are not going to be able to plan for the future.
With the impact of quotas, the discard policy and stock management, Mr Cohen said the fishing industry is at a turning point.
“But it comes down to having an industry that is sustainable – economically sustainable and socially sustainable,” he said.
“There will constantly be new issues we will have to look at.”
He added: “You have to be positive for the future. The stock levels are positive and there are a lot of good people working in the industry.
“You have to be optimistic about the future.”