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OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES

 
09:00 - 09 December 2002
 
  
 
Children in a Westcountry fishing port have written an emotive plea to
Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley to save their fathers' livelihoods in
the wake of new cod quotas which are forcing local fishermen out of
work.

The sons and daughters of cod fishermen in Mevagissey, Cornwall - some
as young as three - have penned the heartrending appeal in a desperate
attempt to halt swingeing cuts which are decimating fishing communities
across Devon, Cornwall and Dorset.

The letter, addressed to "Dear Father Defra" and due to be delivered to
Mr Morley this morning, carries a chilling message about the economic
impact the quotas are having on families whose income depends entirely
on the fishing industry. Carrying the signatures of 30 children aged
between three and 14, it reads: "Father Christmas won't be coming to our
house this year because Daddy's out of work. Daddy cannot work because
you have stopped him fishing for cod. Daddy can prove that there's
plenty of cod out there."

The75kg quota limit was applied to each boat under ten metres in length
last week.

But cod fishermen in Mevagissey, near St Austell, have reacted with
dismay as bigger boats - UK, French, Belgian and Irish trawlers -
continue to fish while smaller operators have found themselves forced
out of business.

The limit will affect about 650 boats in Weymouth, Bridport and Lyme
Regis, in Dorset, Seaton, Beer, Exmouth, Teignmouth, Brixham, Dartmouth,
Salcombe, Plymouth, Appledore, Clovelly and Ilfracombe, in Devon, and
Looe, Fowey, Polperro, Mevagissey, Falmouth, St Mawes, Porthleven,
Newlyn, Land's End, Hayle, Newquay, Padstow and Port Isaac, in Cornwall.

Michael Brokenshire, who led a protest of fellow fishermen and their
children to the Mevagissey quayside on Saturday morning, said: "It
doesn't make any sense. They know that smaller boats cannot ruin the
stock or stop fishing. It is the height of our cod season. It means we
will keep a small amount of ling or other large fish and throw back tons
of dead cod."

The Liberal Democrat MP for Truro and St Austell, Matthew Taylor, said
yesterday that reform of the fisheries management system was long
overdue.

"The ultimate problem is that the big guys have got the political muscle
to win their argument while the more environmental local fishing
techniques are hit by rules that bear no relation to what the fishermen
actually do," he said.

The children's poignant letter says Defra is directly in charge of the
inshore fishermen's pay packet. "But they are out of step with reality,"
said ex-fisherman and councillor Les Hunkin, whose son and grandson are
cod fishermen.

"Elliot Morley's tactics of cutting fish quotas without scientific proof
for tiny boats like ours are very wrong. Each boat's monthly quota of
75kg of cod will be caught in a matter of hours and it therefore means
that our fishermen will throw back hundreds of dead fish.

"They cannot even fish for Dover sole, because Defra has put a stop on
that species too, in yet another sweeping quota cut against small
vessels. Inshore boats constitute over 95 per cent of the fleet at
Mevagissey, a fleet that cannot hurt the fish stocks because their
fishing power is minute when compared to a fleet of beam trawlers or
stern trawlers."

The Liberal Democrat MP for Torridge and West Devon, John Burnett, said:
"The EU must think again and adopt a far more fair policy to allow for
our indigenous fishermen who understand that conservation is in their
best interests as well as in the best interests of the public."

The plight of Westcountry inshore cod fishermen will not ease on
December 30, because the monthly quota for each boat in January is
already set at 250kg (40 stone). Fishermen say their boats should be
catching between 190kg (30 stone) and 908kg (80 stone) per day.

Inshore fishermen from all over the Westcountry are now demanding to
know how Mr Morley arrived at such figures. One said: "Where did he get
his information on the South West cod stocks from and when was the last
time one of his scientists ever went out on a South West fishing boat?"

Mevagissey fishermen have opted to go one step further, testing the
mathematics of Defra's quota balance sheet.

Coun Hunkin said: "At this port around 28 licensed small boats lie in
the harbour all winter and will never go cod netting. However, each
vessel is lawfully allowed to catch 75kg of cod for December, say Defra,
so why cannot the ten inshore boats that specifically fish for cod this
time of year use that quota?"

Coun Hunkin, along with every fisherman in Mevagissey, is now calling
for that unused quota - 2,100kg - to be spread among the cod skippers.

"There is plenty of cod on the inshore grounds," he said. "Our fishermen
cannot turn to other methods and we want to see the Minister and his
scientists come to Mevagissey and have a taste of what it's like to have
no money for three months."