MPs call for fishing quota change

The Government's approach to the trade in fishing quota has been criticised by a committee of MPs.

Urgent changes are needed to the system of managing and allocating quota to the English fishing fleet to preserve the livelihoods of fishermen, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee inquiry into domestic fisheries management said.

The committee was "shocked" to find Defra did not monitor the individual holding of quota in England.

Under the current system, fishing quota may be held by "slipper skippers" - inactive or retired fishermen, or organisations who have little or no connection to the fishing industry and who merely trade it as a commodity.

Conservative MP Anne McIntosh, who chairs the committee, said: "We are very concerned by the apparent turning of quota into a commodity at the expense of working fishermen, and we have called upon Defra to justify its position.

"Our report recommends that quota should only be held by working fishermen unless the holding of quota by outside interests can be shown to be of clear benefit to fishing communities."

The committee said it was particularly concerned about the distribution of quota to smaller fishing boats.

It recommended the under-10 metre fleet should have more opportunities to acquire fishing quota, offering a lifeline to fishing communities most vulnerable to existing rules.

The committee also urged greater action by Defra on the "unsustainable practice" of fish discards, where unwanted dead fish are thrown back into the sea due to current catch restrictions imposed under the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has spearheaded a campaign against the wasting of fish under the CFP and set up a stall this week outside the European Parliament to highlight his Fish Fight campaign.

The European Commission has already signalled it wants to end the waste by proposing a ban under CFP reforms.

But some fishing sectors say a total ban is too much, too soon.

Miss McIntosh added: "We were encouraged to hear that Defra is already undertaking work to address this problem, but we believe the department could do more to build on the success of trials such as Project 50%, and we call on the department to place a clear priority on doing this."