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UK Politics

Big fishing firms lose battle over quotas

High Court rules in favour of reallocating some fishing rights from big producers to small-scale fishermen

A fishing industry organisation has lost its battle with the Government over a plan to reallocate fishing quotas.

The UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations had challenged a decision by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to redistribute "fixed quota allocations" FQAs from its members who own vessels greater than 10 metres to boats that 10 metres or under.

Tom de la Mare QC, representing the fishing organisation at the High Court in London, argued that the re-allocation decision was unlawful and discriminatory under both EU and domestic law, and amounted to an abuse of power.

But Mr Justice Cranston rejected the challenge and ruled that there was no discrimination.

Although UKAFPO describes itself as a co-operative for fishing vessel owners, critics, who include Greenpeace say it represents "the fat cats of the fishing industry who control over 90 per cent of the quota".

Greenpeace said: "In a landmark ruling on an unprecedented legal battle for the control of the UK fishing quota, the court backed the Government's decision to redistribute some of the unused fishing allowances held by the industry heavyweights to small inshore fishing boats."

UKAFPO's chairman, Jim Portas warned that the effect ruling could be a reintroduction of the race to fish that FQA had been designed to eliminate. But Jerry Percy, chief executive of the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association, welcomed the judge's decision to reject UKAFPO's arguments.

He said: "This ruling entirely vindicates the minister's decision to reallocate a small percentage of constantly unused fishing quota from the larger-scale operators to those smaller vessels in desperate need of it.

"It now gives the minister the opportunity to review the entire basis of allocating fishing rights and, through that, provide a lifeline to the smaller-scale fishermen who are the lifeblood of many coastal communities."

Nutfa and Greenpeace had intervened in the case to argue that fish stocks are not "a private commodity but a public resource, held by the Crown for the benefit of the public".

They said the reallocation affected only a small amount of consistently unused quota.