Fishermen forced to scrap boats and cut catches

Port under siege: Newlyn, heart of Cornish fishing industry, is to lose a tenth of its fleet
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The Independent Online
The Cornish fishing industry will take another step towards the history books this month when one-tenth of the fleet in Newlyn, the largest fishing port in England and Wales, is scrapped in return for Government compensation.

Newlyn, the heart of the Cornish industry, is to lose 17 boats from a fleet of about 160.

The contraction of the Cornish fleet is just the most striking example of the decline of British fishing in recent years, which will be hastened by cuts in catches to be imposed later this month by the European Union.

Catches of cod in the Irish Sea will be reduced by 7 per cent, plaice by 11 per cent and sole by nearly 40 per cent. The Newlyn fleet will come under further pressure from January when 40 Spanish boats will be allowed into the 92,000-square-mile Irish Box, which has historically provided the Cornish with rich pickings.

To add insult to the Cornish fishermen's sense of injury the European Court decided last week that Spanish "flag of convenience" vessels registered in the United Kingdom and catching fish on the British quota had been illegally prevented by the Government from fishing. The way is now open for the Spanish skippers to claim an estimated pounds 30m in compensation.

The cuts in catches will stiffen Cornish opposition to the EU's Common Fisheries Policy which allows Britain an average of 10-20 per cent of the fish allowed to be caught around the UK.

According to Elizabeth Stevenson, part-owner of Europe's largest private fleet which is based in Newlyn, the foundations of the CFP need to be relaid. Mrs Stevenson said: "At the time we were not collecting the catch statistics. Other countries had very high estimates for their catches so their historical share of the total appeared higher and we got a bad deal."

As part of a deal brokered with the EU, Britain has pledged to reduce its "fishing effort" by 17 per cent by the end of 1997. The reductions in the Newlyn fleet are part of that agreement. Each year bids are submitted by fishermen to scrap their boats; the average pay-out this year is likely to be about pounds 60,000.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture said that the scrapping programme was the only way of solving the problem of overfishing.

"There isn't enough fish for them to catch. The scientists are telling us that the stocks are at an all time low for many species and so regrettably the fishing fleet has to be reduced."

Ms Stevenson said decommissioning would not solve the overall problem. "If the entire UK fishing fleet was scrapped tomorrow it would not make any difference because our share of the catch is so low."