Brixham Trawler Agents

Around the breakwater 50°24.3'N 3°30.7'W

To read them and accept all at face value would damn the towed-gear fishing industry as rapists and pillagers. Indeed, this was a term used in all seriousness by one ex-leader of Natural England when, at a conference in London she described SW inshore trawlermen as such to an audience of academics!

There have also been many headlines and articles written about the share-out of British Fish Quotas and who “owns” them.


To quote Greenpeace last week, “The UK small-scale fleet makes up three quarters of the fishing vessels in our waters, and provides two thirds of jobs in the English fleet but gets a farcically tiny slice of the quota cake, just 4%. No, I haven’t missed out a number, I really do mean 4%. Over 95 per cent of the UK’s fishing quota is held by powerful fishing organisations, which represent larger, more destructive vessels and are often dominated by foreign interests that contribute little or nothing to the UK economy.”


What is the truth behind the headlines? The facts are far less controversial than Greenpeace would have you believe.



UK Fish Producer Organisations: Dispelling the myths, presenting the facts

Fish Producer Organisations (POs) in the UK were set up under European Common Market guidelines by the fishermen who had invested in the means of production, i.e. the vessels.

The first UK PO, the FPO in Hull, emerged in 1974. The SWFPO Ltd was also inaugurated that year.

POs are funded by, run by and for fishermen. POs are not for profit, mutual societies and organisations. As such they are operated entirely for the benefit of fishermen and their communities.

POs have strict Rules and Articles of Association that have been approved by the Ministry of Fisheries and are lodged with them and with the Commission. There is a very strict compliance requirement with the many articles of the CMO. Recognition may be withdrawn for non-compliance.

Membership must be entirely voluntary. Both under and over-10m vessel owners are eligible to join POs. POs are not allowed to discriminate against producers operating within their area of operation.

In the UK, owners of under-10m vessels may join POs for quota management purposes or simply for representational and marketing services. Owners of under-10m vessels could form their own PO.

The primary purpose of POs under the CFP regulations is to manage the balance of fishing activity (supply) with market demand. This balancing of supply and demand also means that POs in UK actively participate in, and share responsibility for, the management of the sector.

The strength of producer organisations lies in their proximity to the operational fishing vessels and their operators and the opportunity that this provides to tailor management measures to reflect regional and fleet variations such as the seasonality of different fisheries. This has provided the basis for delegated quota management responsibilities that are widely regarded as a highly successful model.

A good example of collective PO membership is the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation (CFPO), formed in 1976. This PO operates today with 110 over-10m vessels and 95 under-10m vessels in membership and all sectors of the fleet work together to improve their fishing operations and maximise production. The management board of POs comprises owners of under and over-10m vessels, thus ensuring transparent and effective management of associated fisheries.

In the UK, POs should be seen as the original fishermen’s community quota schemes and co-operative organisations. Fishermen throughout UK ports have combined in UKAFPO and SAFPO to work collectively through the mire of Brussels and Westminster regulations, including the quotas and other aspects of fisheries and marketing.

UK Fisheries Administrations discuss quota management arrangements annually with fishing industry representatives: these are then embodied in the UK's quota management rules.

POs are responsible for managing their own share of the quota allocations and for ensuring that uptake of these is not exceeded. It is for the POs to decide how best to allocate quota to their members. Some POs set monthly catch limits, which may be supplemented by quota held by individual PO members: other POs issue annual vessel or company quotas.

There is no dark art –POs are not mystery cartels! POs are their members, i.e. the fishermen operating collectively for mutual benefit.

Under the new 2012 CFP it is intended that POs would have greater collective and regional responsibility for the sustainable management of the fisheries. If they were the destructive forces as Greenpeace accuses, then the EU would not offer such onerous tasks and responsibility!

Practical quota management operations:

Fishing boat owners in the over 10 metre fleet are issued licenses by MMO on behalf of Defra as part of the Sea Fish Conservation Acts. This regime has been around since 1985. 

A license dictates in what sea areas the boat may fish and the quota species that may or may not be taken (plus restrictions related to migratory fish such as Salmon & Sea Trout) and the methods that may or may not be used.

Restrictions mostly have developed over years as more constraints have been needed to achieve objectives of the CFP. For example, if a boat in Brixham in 2013 has only ever fished for pressure (quota) stocks with otter trawls in the English Channel since inception of the UK restrictive license regime, then the owner would have no authority to fish with Beams, with dredges or with crab pots. He would not be allowed to fish for more than 500 tonnes per year of non-quota pelagic species with mid-water gear. He would be granted a “general” white fish license and would be allowed to fish Channel waters, the N Sea and other EU seas. If catching quota fish, if he did not have enough of his own on his license he would have to obtain quotas by lease or swap. He would likely not have “Cod Recovery Days” under that temporary regime. He would have FQAs on his license based on his 1994 to 1996 fishing track record. If he is a member of a PO, then that PO would tell him the amounts of fish he could land on a periodic or annual basis, depending on the PO rules. If non-sector, then MMO dictates his landings limits. Such limits are unrelated to his fishing history.

To stop over-fishing and in compliance with EU structural policies and the CFP, the UK government through license aggregations and decommissioning achieved beam trawler and other segments fleet capacity reduction in the Channel of about 65%. In early schemes the quotas of scrapped boats was absorbed into opportunities for the remaining fleet. Since the 1997 scheme, the quotas from scrapped boats have been retained by the former owners as opportunities for their own future utilisation and disposal as they wished.

From the mid-1980s up to and including 1998, quotas were allocated to POs according to the average catches of their members over the 3 preceding years as a function of the average of the available quotas in those 3 years, after deducting due amounts for the under 10m fleet and the non-sector and adjusting for over-fishing AND for under-fishing.
This was a “use it, or lose it” basis.

FQAs originally were direct functions of fish catching activity averaged over the 3 years 1994 to 1996.
For example, take the vessel "Saucy Sue".
She caught 0.5 tonnes 7a Plaice in 1994, 2.0 tonnes in 1995 and 3.5 tonnes in 1996. Total 6.0 tonnes, average 2.0 tonnes or 2,000kgs.
Divide by 100 to get 20 FQA units of 7a Plaice. Nominal “value” of each original FQA unit was 100kgs, but note that the system started in 1999 and already there had been quota changes (cuts and increases) so an FQA unit changes value with such quota changes.

These 20 7a Plaice units would be attached to the fishing license and, if the owner had not bought more or sold any of the original FQAs, then he would still have 20 FQA units attached today. Their value would depend on the national quota and any top-slicing or any national penalty for over-fishing at EU level that would be passed on to the PO responsible.

PO managers would decide each year how their quota would be allocated amongst members.

In some cases the quota would be "pooled" and limits applied on a periodic basis.
Such monthly or quarterly amounts would be monitored by the PO and "internal" penalties for non-compliance (over-fishing) applied according to the rules of the PO.

In other cases the quota might be divided amongst the boats individually, based upon their FQA holdings. These would be annual allocations. (IQs)
The owners of the boats would then decide either to catch those amounts as and when the fish was in the area or in such a condition to make a good price on the market.

Owners could add to them by leasing or swapping amongst themselves or with members of other POs. Such trade might be for in-year only involving derived quotas, or permanent involving deals between license holders.

Non-permanent lease and swaps of quotas do not involve movement of FQAs from one license to another.

Permanent deals require FQA movement. Contracts are drawn up to facilitate POs understanding of such deals and to enable quota to be moved from one PO to another if required, or from one owner to another if the deal is “internal”.

From time to time the MMO has enabled “reconciliation” of FQA transfers from one license to another to tidy-up back-log of contracts.

The SWFPO has a "pool" system for our inshore day-boat fleet and an "IQ" system for our larger trawlers and scallopers.

Each of the 14 POs in membership of UKAFPO chooses for themselves how to manage their FQA-based allocations.

Each PO in the UK has a set of rules that have been verified by the Fisheries Administrations to provide quota monitoring and penalty for non-compliance. Each PO is subjected to occasional audit.

Each PO must have systems in place to receive quotas from MMO or devolved FA, to count those quotas down through the year, to reach December 31st with no quota overfishing.

Each PO can swap quotas amongst other UK POs and may negotiate swaps with other Member States. Such swaps are completed by MMO or devolved FA only after confirmation of the national benefit. Such swaps do not involve movement of FQAs.

In the cases of the non-sector and under 10s, non-compliance is actually for the MMO to enforce through law, although in recent years the MMO has introduced a system of Fixed Administrative Penalties (FAPs) for minor administrative offences.

The MMO or devolved FA undertakes the functions of a PO for the non-sector and the under 10m fleet. Penalties for non-compliance are dealt with, if necessary by the courts.

The administration of the small-scale inshore / under 10m sector has been of benign and loose control since restrictions were first introduced in the larger boat sectors. Recent analysis shows that 70% of Under 10m quotas are caught by only about 160 boats of that size. These are known collectively as the “Super Tens”. They result from investment decisions made under the loose management regime.

The CFP has only required the Member State administration to estimate the catches of the under 10s. Until 1996 those estimates were not challenged and the sector thrived in blissful ignorance. Only the introduction of the register of fish buyers and sellers upset that “apple-cart”, revealing the true extent of over-capitalisation and excess capacity in relation to available opportunities.

The Ministry had no choice but to act upon the revelations, limiting landings to amounts that ensured the 160 could not over-fish allocations. The Ministry enabled access to higher amounts by allowing owners to rent quotas from the over 10s. Initially this was a one-year measure, but we are now in the 5th year. Most of the 160 vessel owners have used quota leasing.

NUTFA emerged as a campaign group to fight the perceived injustice of slashed opportunities, but their vociferous leaders have only their opposition to leasing as justification, claiming that the quotas should be freely available as they were pre-1997.

Such arguments are peppered with flawed logic. The fact is that the over 10m fleet has restructured at enormous personal costs within the FQA system, slashing over 60% of the fleets to match their opportunities.

This is what the under 10m fleet must do, in particular the 160 vessels, but the latent capacity represented by the 4,000 other under tens is a grave issue with which Ministers must deal. 


Further guidance and information is available on the MMO website and the Rules can be found following this link:



Firstly, I want you to bear in mind that the fishing industries of the entire EU have been under the dictates of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) since 1983 and that for the ten years before that date UK was in “transition” brought on by joining the Common Market. To me it is something of a miracle that we have anything of a fishing industry left in the UK. Parts of it have gone forever. The Ports of Fleetwood, Grimsby, Lowestoft and Milford Haven are shadows of a once mighty seafood producing industry. Thankfully, the English Channel ports are flourishing.


After the war we had policies of regeneration and growth, with vital seafood needed to help feed a recovering nation. Similar policies saw agriculture also thriving. Cash incentives poured into our fishing ports. But then in 1971 the UK joined the Common Market club and in time we would face the constraints of the CAP and the CFP.


The first 10 years were “transitional”, to get the nation ready for the things to come. The Treaty of Rome obligations for all Member States describes the need to comply with the “Acquis Communautaire”, the accumulated legislation, legal acts, and court decisions which constitute the body of European Union law.   


The 1983 CFP set each Member State of the EU tough targets to meet, requiring the UK to reduce its fleet in stages by about 60%. Massive grants and subsidies would soften the blows.


The CFP is a temporary mechanism, destined in time to deliver equal access to a common resource. Our 6 miles and 12 miles limits also are only temporary. In time we may have non-UK fishermen working close to our beaches! The CFP has been renewed each ten years. In my occupation I have witnessed the reviews of 1992, 2002 and 2012.


During the 2012 review that started in 2009, there were 3 core aspects of focus. Fish discards, Maximum Sustainable Yields (MSY) for all stocks and regionalisation of fisheries management. As it happens, agreement could not be reached by the end of 2012 and Ministers rushed to renew temporarily the 6 miles and 12 miles limits and other regulatory aspects while work progresses this year towards settlement.


Concurrently with work on the new CFP, Ministers have been striving to deliver targets of marine environment protection that were agreed more than a decade ago. The Natura 2000 network delivers on land and at sea EU obligations set down in the 1992 Habitats Directive and the 1979 Birds Directive, which in their turn deliver terms agreed under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. To help deliver the global vision of ‘clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas’, the governments strategy will be an ecologically coherent network of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

The delays to decisions on 2012 reforms of the CFP and on the implementation of the network of MCZs have come about not so much because politicians have this annoying habit of making promises around election times, but because of the need to investigate the practicalities and the necessity for sound science. These things take a while to sort out and it’s crucial they get it right!

When a vigorous campaigner with quite a TV following like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall sticks an oar in, the promises from politicians get ever more outrageous and the time-line gets extended! That’s the nature of politics and of pandering to popular appeal.

So it was that the “Hugh’s Fish Fight” on C4 campaigned not only for a ban on fish discards caused by the CFP, but also for a massive network of Marine Protected Areas around UK waters. To hell with the science, Hugh seemed to say, let’s have a rigid inflexible policy that saves the world, but completely messes up the future prospects for the once-great British Fishing industry!

Thank goodness for a bit of common sense and, for once, the bureaucratic maze of Brussels and Westminster! The wheels of Whitehall and of the European institutions grind so slowly that rash decisions cannot be made to follow rash promises!

As it stands today, the reforms to the CFP are still being finalised and they won’t be enacted until the end of 2013. That’s because, under the Lisbon Treaty there had to be a “co-decision” process involving the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, aided by the DG Mare Commission. Each step along the way, documents have to be translated and double-checked for legal intricacies. After all, do you know the difference between “Equal access to Fisheries” and “Equitable access to Fisheries”?

Maybe in English, but what about in Spanish, Polish, Latvian, Greek etc? The whole process progresses at glacial pace!

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and other campaigners are impatient for a complete ban on fish discards. I and others have told him several times that many of those fish swim away and live, but he just didn’t want to know. Thankfully our Minister, Richard Benyon did listen, as did enough Ministers at Council in Brussels in February. We now have the prospect of some workable exemptions to the total ban on discards that will allow fish with “high survival rate” to be thrown back to thrive. Let’s hope the final text doesn’t muck about with sensible compromise.

I can assure you also, however, that the fishing industry has not simply waited for these policies to mature. The present CFP has many “daughter” regulations that dictate mesh sizes of nets, fish sizes of sexual maturity, engine sizes, weight of fishing gear, total allowable catches (TACs), etc. The CFP isn’t isolated from reality. Fishermen have adapted to these myriad rules over the decades. Some have been well-intentioned and well-designed, others have been clumsy.

Fish discards, for example, are a feature of the combination of the TACs and Quotas regulations, the minimum fish sizes and of the market needs of consumers. A fisherman ruled by the CFP has no choice but to limit his catch to his quota, but he may be in a mixed fishery and runs out of Cod, for example, long before he runs out of Plaice. Of course he must then dump the excess Cod, or break the law by landing “black-fish”.


If some of his catch is below the minimum sizes he must dump it.

Some of the fish has no economic value and there would be no point landing it simply for a skip journey to land-fill, or a £700 road trip to Grimsby fish-meal plant, now the only such facility in the UK.

The fishermen have not been simply waiting for the discards “ban” to cause predictable mayhem.

Under the present CFP that operated from 2002, the industry firstly has shrunk by more than 60%. Massive numbers of boats have been scrapped.

Secondly, the steps taken already towards discards reduction have been spectacularly successful in some fisheries. Our own channel Beam Trawler fleet have been trying, testing and developing nets that have reduced live benthos and fish discards by more than 60% since 2005.


In 2007, Brixham skipper Mike Sharp won the WWF Clean Fishing competition, for Beam Trawlers innovating to reduce benthic impact and discard rates.


In 2009, the CEFAS 50% Project focussed on Brixham Beam Trawlers.


In 2012 skipper Shaun Gibbs of the Brixham Beamer “Barentszee” worked with Darren Edwards and Alan Porter to design “Roller Balls” that lift up the trawler ground rope to reduce benthic impact and further reduced discards while also saving fuel and pollution.

Some of the fish that used to be discarded have found a market.

Finally, earlier this week the MMO published the results of the latest innovation, CCTV cameras have been fitted on board a number of boats to monitor and prove lower discard rates in selective fisheries. The footage reveals that the target fish is not being caught below minimum sizes and that the catch is not being high-graded for better price per kilo at market. In return the skipper is awarded up to 30% extra quota, depending on target species, to cover the amount that would have been discarded. This is known as “Fully Documented Fishing” (FDF).

So the message is, much less fish is discarded because of fleet shrinkage, technical innovations and better marketing. It would be a real shame if the fishermen who have done so much are now forced to bring in the remaining amounts of discards, much of which would survive in the sea anyway and the rest of which should be part of the marine food-chain and not land-fill.  


In the case of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) you’d be forgiven thinking the fishing industry is against them. Far from it!


The process leading to the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the Natura 2000 (Habitats Directive) involved closely the fishing industry. Representatives attended meetings and workshops and often presented fishermen’s seabed information to inform the debate and the science. There is no requirement to protect 100% of the listed features, only a reasonable sample of good examples. A well-known SAC is our region is the Lyme Bay Reefs that started life as a voluntary agreement put forward by the fishing industry in 1999. The Lundy SAC was also proposed by the N Devon fishing industry.


The more recent process of designating MCZs under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 has derived from, in our region, the “Finding Sanctuary” Project. This English £3million government funded scheme aims to complete the network of marine protected areas around UK waters. Similar projects are underway and amounts of money are being spent in Wales, N Ireland and Scotland.


Again, I cannot emphasise enough that the fishing industry has been involved and has contributed willingly to our knowledge and understanding of seabed features. This is why they are so cross with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Fish Fight Series. He likes viewers to think he invented the concepts of discards elimination and of MCZs.


The fact is that the MCZ Projects were rushed, were poorly equipped for the task and presented quasi-science to government whose Science Advisory Panel (SAP) was not impressed. The industry had complained early in the process that the timetable was impossible. We formed the Marine Protected Area (fishing) Coalition (MPAC) to inform the assessments. Minister Richard Benyon rightly rejected 96 of the original list of 127 sites as being inadequate in science base. The other 31 areas are up for final consultation now. Many will be uncontested by the fishing industry and others we will present more evidence to fine-tune the boundaries to make them fit for purpose. MCZs must be designed, planned and introduced with good evidence and with the broad support of fishermen.


So you see, that’s what all the fuss is about. In the industry we know that the wrong decisions can lead to greater expense and even to economic ruin. We want a discards policy that allows the live fish to go back into the sea to thrive and to contribute to growing fish stocks. We want our small boats to be exempted from any discards ban else they would become encumbered by excess weight they might not safely handle. We want the TACs and quotas to be raised by enough to allow for the extra fish that would have been discarded, else we will end up with fish to landfill and boats tied up for lack of quotas.


We want the MCZs to be as small as is environmentally possible to do the job and to be in areas where the fishing industry would be least affected. We want the Minister to take note that there are lots of areas of seabed already not trawled, such as oil and gas fields, windfarms, hard rocky reefs and wrecks. We are also in this together with other Member States so we want them to pull their weight and not to let the UK do all the running!



There has never been a better time for fresh fish to takes its rightful place on the plates of British families. Our fishing industry is presently worth some £649 million to the UK economy delivering healthy protein. Eat fish, be healthy, save British jobs!       


June 21st 2013 is Fish Friday, a fund-raising day for the Fishermen’s Mission. Please give generously!


Jim Portus BSc MNI RMarTech FIMarEST


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