UK

Legal battle over who owns the fish in the sea

  • 1 May 2013
  • From the section UK
Fish
There is fierce argument over quotas

The High Court is being asked to make a judgement over the question of who owns the fish in the sea.

The government wants to reallocate unused quota worth more than £1m from big firms to small-scale fishermen.

But the UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations says the government cannot do this without its consent.

It is asking the High Court to rule on whether the allocation of a quota confers a permanent right to fish yet to be caught.

Fishing quotas are a licence to make a living from the seas. Without them you cannot legally catch and sell fish.

UKAFPO members, mainly large-scale fishermen, currently control more than 90% of the overall fishing quota for England and Wales.

And small-scale fishing round Britain’s traditional ports has suffered because crews have been unable to negotiate control of enough of the quota to stay in business.

But large fleets have left about 800 tonnes of their quota untouched for years, so the Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, decided to confiscate that amount of the quota to share out among small operators.

Important consequences

The government is joined officially in court by Greenpeace and by the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association (NUTFA) representing small-scale fishermen.

Greenpeace says the landmark case is likely to have momentous consequences for the fishing industry, the definition of fish as a public good, and the government’s ability to manage our fisheries.

A Greenpeace spokesman said: “What the big crews are trying to do is get the court to rubberstamp the privatisation by stealth of a public good that has taken place over the last 30 years.”

UKAFPO chairman Jim Portus said this was a matter of principle that had been in dispute for several years.

He said: “The fact that we didn’t use all the quota every year doesn’t mean we don’t need it.

“Some years you might be able to use it – other years there would be different conditions and you might not be able to use it. We hope the courts will settle this one.”

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