Historical injustices have deprived 70% of the European fishing fleet of fair and secure access to fishing quotas and fishing grounds. This fleet segment accounts for 50% of the fishing jobs at sea. Due to these injustices, the sector has to fall back on “non-quota” species and so is restricted to only 5% of the EU’s fish catch.
In times of famine, historically the European aristocracy were reputed to say about the protesting poor: “If they have no bread, then let them eat cake”. Similarly, today, those with quota privileges are all too often quick to say, “the quota is legally ours, let them fish for non-quota species”, when the small-scale fishers demand a fair share.
The issue of fairness is a central plank of the EU’s CFP (Regulation (EU) 1380/2013). Article 2 f) states that the CFP shall contribute to a fair standard of living for those who depend on fishing activities, bearing in mind coastal fisheries and socio-economic aspects.
However, for those with privileges and entitlements, what is fair and equitable may feel like oppression.
Last week, on Friday 22 April, a webinar with the title: Preventing Conflict in EU Waters, was organized by 2 European research groups. The event, organized by the European Fisheries and Aquaculture Research Organisations e MARE gathered around 80 participants. The keynote presentation was given by Dr Marloes Kraan from MARE. She gave an overview of the main areas of conflict in European fisheries, focussing on management aspects of large and small-scale fisheries in Europe, in the context of change (climate, blue economy, and policy (Brexit)).
“Given that there is only one policy framework (CFP) for many, diverse fleets and much change ahead, there is pressure on governability, which if not addressed in time provides much basis for conflict”, said Dr Kraan. There are aspects of allocating space to several diverse activities (Marine Spatial Planning) but also dealing with a rather broad policy framework. “How can we get ahead of this, and what do we need to know?”, she asked.
The issues addressed by her presentation were mainly about allocating access to a public resource and managing the activities of those with the privileges and entitlements to exploit them. It also touched on the threat to the fisheries sector from climate change and the development of the blue economy, where other economic interests are increasingly competing with fisheries for access to marine areas.
In such a context, conflict is inevitable, given that the fisheries resources and marine areas are public property, and given that a privileged minority have concentrated a lion’s share of the entitlements. Conflicts arising must be managed, and just solutions sought.
One just solution would be for the CFP to adopt a differentiated approach to small-scale and large-scale fisheries. This was a suggestion put forward in the 2009 Green Paper on CFP Reform but was not taken up.
The Low Impact Fishers of Europe are calling for “fair fisheries”, i.e. an equitable allocation of access rights and a say in how the access is managed. Article 17 of the CFP could provide a mechanism for achieving fairer fisheries. However, the “big industry” reject the proposal to introduce the necessary alternative allocation mechanisms for fishing opportunities through Article 17. “We are legally entitled to these privileges” say the multinational Pelagic Freezer Trawler Association (PFA).
“No bread (quota species) for the small-scale fishers? Well, then let them eat cake (non-quota species)”, says the PFA.
Where there is such an imbalance in power relations and concentration of fishing rights, conflict is inevitable.
As well as concentrating the entitlements to fishing opportunities, the “big industry” also controls the functioning of the democratic bodies set up to resolve conflicts and provide a voice for the sector. They preside the Advisory Councils, the Producer Organisations and the National Fisheries structures, and claim to represent both small and large fishing companies.
The Cornelis Vrolijk, a Dutch multinational fishing company now controls the French National Fisheries Committee and one of the largest French POs, for example. How can a Dutch multinational corporation represent the interests of the small-scale fleet?
It’s all about the market
A key element missing from the presentation concerned the fish market and supply chain. Fishing clearly does not exist in isolation but is an integral part of food production and supply (value chain) systems, delivering a high value internationally traded commodity.
Here in Europe, our fisheries provide only about one third of what our consumer markets demand. The rest comes from aquaculture and imports. Nearly 50% of what we eat comes from 5 species: Tuna, Cod, Salmon, Alaska pollack, Shrimps
Access to markets is also a key factor, and a source of much conflict – current and future – and must be part of the discussion on managing our fisheries. The trade, processing and retail industry are also determining the future shape of European fisheries, and from where we source our fish supplies.
“Blue Food” is now seen as the way forward, in the marketplace and on the consumer’s plate. Just as the Blue Economy is displacing fisheries, Blue Food will replace seafood and fish as we know it. It includes all aspects of food production from marine organisms – plant and animal, harvesting and aquaculture, and industrial production. Blue food will bring mass produced blue food products from algae, single celled proteins and other non-traditional industrially produced marine products.
Small is bad, big is good?
Dr Kraan also highlighted that there are no universal definitions of small-scale fisheries, and that whilst catch and effort data are more available for larger scale fishing activities, socio-economic data is more available scarce for smaller-scale fisheries.
Whilst there may not be any universal definition, it is quite simple really. If you want to know what small-scale fishing is, just go down to the fishing quay and ask.
Seriously though, small-scale fishing is carried out by thousands of nano- or very small household enterprises, fishing with relatively small vessels and passive gears, going to sea daily, catching 10s of kilos of fish and earning hundreds of euros. These enterprises are critically dependent on unpaid labour for many of the shore based administrative and maintenance activities – tasks often done by women family members. They provide the possibility for many low-income families to live on the coast, with reasonably comfortable lifestyles, and supporting a wide range of ancillary activities.
Unlike the larger scale fleets which are able to achieve economies of scale by landing several tonnes of fish at a time and earning tens and hundreds of thousands of Euros, these small enterprises depend on higher margins from their lower landings. To be viable, they need to benefit directly from the value addition of their daily caught fresh products. They depend on being price makers, not price takers in the marketplace. Bulkier catches from the larger scale fleets have a depressing effect on market prices, which undermines the viability of these enterprises. Small-scale products need to be differentiated in the marketplace. Afterall, they come from a different kind of production system.
The Catch with Data
Whilst it may be true that there is a lot more catch and effort data available for larger scale fisheries, just how reliable is this data? Just how are catches, landings and fishing effort measured? Closer inspection reveals many holes in a leaky system. In Denmark engine capacity fraud is known to take place on a wide scale, and in the Netherlands there are only 2 inspectors to check the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fish landed in Dutch ports every year. How representative are these cases in Europe, where Member State governments are having to trim budgets, and fisheries is not a priority?
Another issue raised by Dr Kraan was the relative impact of smaller scale and larger scale fleets. She cited a recent WWF report (The Untrawled Truth) that states: “vessels of less than 12 metres overall length have the highest value of catch per weight and small amounts of space onboard, while catching high value and potentially sensitive, threatened, and endangered species, such as bluefin tuna, swordfish or marine mammals and seabirds."
A little knowledge would show that this statement is just not true. The small vessels referred to simply do not have access to bluefin tuna and swordfish quotas. They are not allowed to catch either bluefin tuna or swordfish, as the larger scale purse seiners and long liners have a quota monopoly. They have the highest value of catch per weight because they are catching mainly demersal, higher value species – including crustaceans. Their catch is also more valuable, because it is fresher, caught and sold on a daily basis.
In terms of impact, there is little comparison between the impact of these passive gear vessels which catch only 5% of the entire EU catch and the larger scale trawler fleet, which they are never going to replace. 5% after all is well within the margins of error on the mass landings of fish from the larger scale fleet segments.
Nevertheless, small-scale fishers have a right to exist, and to earn their livelihoods in the manner they choose – providing a healthy product locally, in season, supporting a wide range of ancillary activities including tourism, and anchoring communities on the coast. If they were to disappear, our coastal areas would be much poorer places, devoid of fresh locally caught fish, colourful fishing boats, small-scale socio-economic activity, and traditional cultural events associated with the sea.
That would be an irreplaceable loss in terms of local knowledge, cultural heritage and socio-economic opportunities.