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FISHERMEN IN MOVE TO CLOSE OFF SEABED

 
09:50 - 09 December 2002
 
 Westcountry fishermen hope to join with colleagues from France,
Belgium, Ireland and possibly Spain, to set aside areas of the seabed
all around Europe, "to conserve stocks in a practical way".

Cornish fishing leader Paul Trebilcock explained that the move would
allow the industry to take part in hands-on fisheries management and
leave behind the present EU fish quota management tool of "throwing back
dead fish in the name of conservation".

As chief executive to the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation (CFPO), he
and his colleagues announced the first possible closed area off Trevose
Head in North Cornwall last Friday.

Two large corridors totalling 360 square nautical miles may be closed to
all fishing activities from February 1 to April 30 if they are
successful in convincing the EU. He described how the region is "a prime
breeding spot for many species of fish".

This move comes as a direct action against failed fisheries management -
discarding dead fish - a method endorsed by the EU and Defra. Both the
CFPO and the South Western FPO propose to amend the yearly Brussels
paper-chase on quota allocation, "to become a sensible move in closing a
common spawning area for a large number of demersal species, including
cod".

Mr Trebilcock said: "It isn't a no-take zone, but two closed boxes set
outside the six-mile limit in a noted breeding zone." Cornish and Devon
fishermen's leaders will later today (Monday) tell Fisheries Minister
Elliot Morley about their idea and explain how closed areas were a
common unwritten technique used by fishermen well before the EU Common
Fisheries Policy came into force in 1984.

Mr Trebilcock said: "In the old days this method was a sensible
year-on-year duty within the fishing industry. It was the well-being of
stocks that dictated the movement of the vessels and not the Ministry or
the Commission.

"We are proposing that this region of the Celtic Sea, being vital to the
future of many species including Dover sole, should be a start to more
sensible fisheries management. We will ask Mr Morley to actively involve
his scientists in verification of the closed areas and they will soon
learn how stocks off the South West are in far better shape than they
currently believe them to be.

"The fundamental principle to the closed areas being successful is that
it must include all nationalities and all fishing operations, or without
this, the closure would be rendered meaningless." Enforcement, Mr
Trebilcock said, had to be "both consistent and effective" while marine,
aerial and satellite monitoring should be used to ensure compliance
during closed periods.

"There should be a transparent stock assessment mechanism to assess both
the actual stock levels and the impact of the closure," he added. "It is
essential that there is a significant improvement in the accuracy of the
scientific data used in stock assessments in this area. Each box runs
north-east/south-west, parallel to each other at a length of 24nM, a
width of 7.5nM, leaving a corridor of 10nM width in between.

"It is an example of fishermen taking control here. It is a seasonal
closed area and not about rebuilding stocks that have collapsed. That
has not happened, we have ample hands-on evidence from the fishing boats
each day that South West stocks are healthy. This is about maintaining a
viable and sustainable fishery that we know to be healthy.

"We know that there are concentrations of spawning stocks in the areas
and juveniles shortly after and are willing to become actively involved
in our own self-management. We have suggested that the position of those
boxes will not discriminate against the fishing activities of inshore
vessels from ports like Newquay, Padstow and Port Isaac. We have already
sent the proposals to relevant POs in France, Belgium, Ireland, main
players in that region, and the Irish have already responded in a
positive manner. They are also looking at similar methods of fisheries
management off the Irish coast. We are expecting to hear reactions from
the French and Belgians very soon.

"We have suffered 20 years of mismanagement, we have a viable, healthy
and lucrative fishery there. We have been savaged by quota cuts over the
last five years or more, Defra looking to savage that further. What we
are offering Defra and the Commission is to be shown how true fisheries
management is done, before we end up with the same scenario as they have
in the North Sea where the stocks are showing some concern. A message to
Mr Morley is to let the people who know what they are doing put it
right; by sensible, pro-active, mature fisheries management."

Both Mr Trebilcock and Jim Portus, chief executive of the South Western
Fish Producers Organisation, have advised inshore cod fishermen to
remain united on the cod quota issue. They're against calls from within
the industry to transfer the 75kg of cod quota from boats that do not go
cod fishing and give it to those that do.

Mr Portus warned: "Defra's answer would be 'no'. By asking the Minister
to allow that shift of 75kg of cod quota from each unused boat to each
active cod netter, the fishermen may be missing the real point. That's
probably what Defra want them to do. The cod quota share out for Area
VII - from Dover to North Wales - is totally wrong, what we must fight
is the scientific base upon which that quota is set and also the amount
that the British get in comparison to the French."

He explained that Britain was entitled to only 8 per cent of the "total
allowable catch" in comparison to the French fleet's 78 per cent. The
imbalance was further compounded by the use of data from a five-year
reference period from 1973 to 1978 - a period when the Westcountry fleet
was tiny and the French fleet was huge.

"Times have changed and so has the abundance of that stock; but the
quota share out has never changed," he added. "It is held rock-solid
within 'political stability', a term used by fishing politicians to
prevent rocking the quota boat at Brussels. That must change.

"The present system allowing fishermen to throw back dead cod in the
name of conservation has a criminality factor that must be addressed. It
means that all small boat fishermen are effectively breaking the law by
setting just one net.We know that the cod stock is in excellent
condition, one net will catch more than that in one week. However, the
scientists - and I fear Mr Morley, too - are swayed by the bigger issue
on the cod stocks in the North Sea, where the cod stock may be in
trouble. But not here, it is a totally different stock."