Fishing quota: Big producers lose reallocation battle

Trawler bringing in its catch Small-scale fishing around the UK has suffered because of access to the quota

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The High Court has ruled in favour of redistributing some fishing rights from big producers to small-scale fishermen.

The UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations had challenged a decision to reallocate unused quota, essentially a licence to fish, worth more than £1m.

It argued the move was unlawful under both EU and domestic law, but the judge ruled there was no discrimination.

Jerry Percy, who represents some of the small-scale producers, said the decision had "historic implications".

Fishing quotas, allocated by the EU, provide a permit for those making a living from the seas. Without them, it is not possible to legally catch and sell fish.


Members of the UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations (UKAFPO), mainly large-scale fishermen, currently control more than 90% of the overall fishing quota for England and Wales.

Start Quote

While we are three-quarters of the commercial fleet in the UK, we have access to only 4% of the quota”

End Quote Jerry Percy New Under Ten Fishermen's Association Ltd (Nutfa)

Small-scale inshore fishing around the UK'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 government decided to confiscate that amount of the quota to share out among small operators.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) wants to redistribute "fixed quota allocations" from those who own vessels greater than 33ft (10m) to boats that are 33ft or under.

Mr Percy, chief executive of the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association Ltd (Nutfa), told the BBC the decision was good news for the long-term survival of small-scale fishermen, who could now catch more fish.

The redistribution would involve "constantly unused quota", he said.


The court victory for small fishermen will have an economic and cultural impact on the UK's coastal towns.

The chances of being able to go to the seaside on holiday and eat locally caught fish just increased.

In many places the number of boats has halved since small fishermen got caught in the quota system in 2006.

They're hugely resentful because they often don't have enough quota to make a reasonable living.

They said it wasn't fair that the UK government had granted fishing rights to big boat owners in perpetuity.

The judge's ruling that the government may re-allocate some of the quotas - even a small amount - gives them hope for further re-allocation in future. This is why the big boat owners are resisting so strongly.

It comes in a momentous year which has seen radical reform of Europe's Common Fisheries Policy, with a phasing out of fish discards and a commitment that fishermen should only take from the sea what the sea can replace.

"We have had an ongoing imbalance in quota allocation for decades which has resulted in the fact that while we are three-quarters of the commercial fleet in the UK, we have access to only 4% of the quota," he added.

Nutfa and environmental campaign group Greenpeace have argued that fish stocks are not "a private commodity but a public resource, held by the Crown for the benefit of the public".

'Romanticised fishermen'

Jim Portus, UKAFPO chairman, said his organisation was very disappointed by the decision, but said he was pleased the judge had recognised the fixed quota allocations held by each boat were "possessions" as far as the Human Rights Act was concerned.

He added: "We have considered an appeal and we may be returning to the High Court in the autumn."

Tom de la Mare QC, for UKAFPO, told the court the entire fishing industry had operated for more than 13 years on the strength of government assurances that were now being broken, stressing that it was not for Defra to cancel certain fixed quota allocations and not others.

One assurance had been that there would be no adverse consequences for any producer who under-fished a yearly quota, he said.

Mr de la Mare added that the under-10m owners had almost been "romanticised as a community of fishermen - Peter Grimes-type operators".

But on the evidence, well over half of the boats were "souped-up vessels adjusted to come in just under the 10-metre limit", he said.

Fisheries minister Richard Benyon: "We thought there was an unfairness to the inshore fleet"

Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said the court had "vindicated" his decision to reallocate underused quota, and said "putting fishermen at the heart of the decision is good news".

He added: "I will continue to take action to maximise the value of the UK's fishing quotas and I look forward to working with all parts of the industry to determine the best way we can do this."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 52.


    So we just sit on our bottoms and not bother to do anything because a mythical sky bring will provide for us?

    What an absurd notion..

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    As you only have to look at once thriving ports which are now either derelict, or have been turned into marinas for those who the money and time to enjoy such things, to know that for many years something has been rotten in the fishing industry.
    Supply falls of when there is no demand, but demand for fish has increased, so why have fishing jobs been exported whilst putting UK men out of work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    45. Praise Him
    Worry not because the Lord will provide.

    Ezekiel 47:9
    And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.
    Turning the sea to fresh water is unlikely to help cod or haddock (salt water fish) is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Give small scale operators a bigger net quota, ex-offishio. Good decision, the big guys are too shellfish, they've done suffishent damage.
    The usual UKippers out fishing for the gullible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I don't understand how there can be 8.000ton left when fisherman are being told they have no quota left, there is something wrong somewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The UK should withdraw from the Common Fisheries policy.

    Curiously, the Heath government didn't give away its territorial rights to oil under the North Sea but happy to give away our fishing rights.

    The Common Fisheries Policy has been a disaster for the UK fishing industry and fish stocks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    37 Minutes ago

    Too little too late.

    Our fishing fleets have been decimated in deference to EU fleets.


    Yes, it had nothing to do with our local fisherman selling out their quotas to theose same EU fleets in order to turn a fast buck, was it?

  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    No one OWNS the fish they are "a public good", no one has a right to them.

    We should only give licences to those who can demonstrate that they fish sustainably, or else there will not be any left!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    23. Little_Old_Me

    Remind me when exactly did Iceland become a member of the EU?

    And who sets our fishing quota - because it's not DEFRA?


  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    The problem is the quality of batter in fish and chip shops, half the time its soggy and lifeless and that means less customers.

    And less customers in your chippy = less fish needed = less work for the fishermen.

    We need to improve batter in order to save jobs and help us out of this recession.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Try googling EU fish quotas and you quickly get the quotas by country by sea area by fish species. That's a lot of combinations and a lot of hagglling. I imagine the quotas have created hundreds of jobs - not for fishermen obviously but overpaid Brussels bureaucrats.
    We do however need long term sustainability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    As someone who grew up in Suffolk, I've often wondered what Lowestoft and Gt Yarmouth must have looked like decades ago when they were alive with booming fishing industries. Something seems very English and appropriate for these seaside towns to once more be thriving fishing communities. Let's hope this is a step towards that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Why would any sane person give away a natural resource to other states, albeit within the eu. Many eu countries flaunt sihing regulations anyway - take a trip abroad and take a look at the size of fish in markets, they laugh at us for sticking to eu regs anyway. eu fleets from spain and Portugal are now robbing African waters as they have wrecked ours - I love the eu

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Smaller boats will make for a more sustainable fishery so this is to be encouraged. The best thing that the EC could do would be to remove quota requirements for fish caught from boats without engines ie. like the fishing boats our grandparents knew. The weather naturally limits the fishing you can do, and administration costs will fall too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    About 30 years too late for places like Gt Yarmouth. Primary industry livlihoods are long dead. All we have is seasonal tourism, public sector and dole queue.

    Why do the powers that be hate honest, hard work like gathering natural resources and manufacturing, but will throw money at the service sector ad nauseum?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Captain Birds Eye will be furious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    It strikes me as completely daft to promote the eating of fish while there is such a crisis in fish stocks. Promote farmed shellfish, those pesky american crayfish etc and let the wild fish stocks recover. And give a break to those fishers who use ancient and sustainable methods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    32 "The sea is a natural resource, and it's beyond me, that someone somewhere decides what belongs to who and who can do what where" - I think the idea is that the guy behind the desk instills some control so there are fish left. You wouldn't go round randomly digging up coal, for example? How effective and impartial the EU is at control is a different issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    This might be good for some smaller fishermen, but what's the impact on fish going to be if quota is used more fully?

    Even with the most environmentally-sensitive fishing, if this quota was currently not being used at all, is using it actually likely to improve things?


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