Fishing is absolutely vital to our local economy. Brixham has the highest value catch in England, with £27 million worth of fish landed in 2012. In Brixham alone there are 25 beam trawlers and 40 day boats. Every job at sea generates a further 5 on land; the crabbing fleet alone supports 30 families.

There is however an ongoing disagreement over the level of quotas available to the Under-Ten and Over-Ten fleets. Both an integral and indispensable part in the UK fishing industry but there have been concerns over the relative share of Fixed Quota Allocations (FQA) to which each fleet have access.

FQAs, many awarded as compensation for decommissioning, are a tradable commodity with a monetary value, and as such have changed hands numerous times. It has become increasingly difficult to keep track of who holds FQAs so the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), in an effort to improve transparency and the management of the quota in general, has published an up to date register of FQAs

This register however reveals that 95% of the quota is now controlled by 24 Fishing Organisations, while the Under-Ten fleet fish to a quota based on the remaining FQAs held by DEFRA.

The Under-Ten fleet want the distribution to be more equitable. This is of course a contentious issue and whilst the Under-Ten fleet are disadvantaged by the current arrangements, any change should be negotiated.

If you have any thoughts on the register and how this could be resolved, please send me your views.


On Wednesday last week, fisheries ministers in the European Council agreed to reform fisheries policies. Disappointingly for green campaigners, ministers decided to phase in the ban of discarding healthy fish at sea from 2015 instead of this year, as had been proposed. Further, they have decided upon significant caveats for some species. However, the minister's document will be discussed by the European parliament and commission before the end deal is reached.

Fleets would still be able to discard five per cent of their catch under the council of ministers' plans, because ministers argued that some inadvertent catch was unavoidable, and there are exemptions covering some species, such as sea bass, and mixed fisheries, where several species inhabit the same area. This measure is important to our local fleet.

If it is passed by the European Parliament, a ban on discards of fish such as mackerel and herring would come into force in 2015, and for other fisheries from 2016.

Maria Damanaki, the EU fisheries commissioner, said: "[This is] a good step forward. We need a fast deal and this can give the opportunity to the commission to focus on issues relating to the implementation. We need to solve the practicalities and at the same time we need to help our fishermen to adjust to the new situation, because this is a radical change for the way we fish. We have to give all possible support to our fisheries sector and our administrations. We have positive news this morning and I hope that in the coming weeks we can work we can work together with the parliament and the council to facilitate the procedure to come to a deal."

Richard Benyon, UK fisheries minister, said: "This package of reforms fulfils our promise to make discards a thing of the past and ensure sustainable fishing for future generations. The next step is for the European parliament to agree these reforms which are set to bring about real benefits for our fishermen and the marine environment for years to come. We have worked hard on these negotiations, and I hope that parliament supports our agreement and brings negotiations to a swift conclusion. The wait is nearly over."


Growth was top of the agenda when DEFRA Minister Richard Benyon MP, paid a visit to South Devon College.


After meeting with the Fishermen's Mission and College Staff, the Minister hosted a public meeting at the University Centre.


Many voluntary wildlife groups attended alongside representatives from the fishing industry, Dartmoor Preservation Society, Dart Harbour Association, South West Coastal Path Association and South West Marine Archaeological Society as well as the Mayor and local Councillors.


Many of those attending were concerned about how to address the struggling coastal and rural economy. The Minister began by stating his optimism that coastal communities could play their part in a 'renaissance' of growth and stability in the local economy provided they had the essential tools to do so. One such example was the recent £530 million project to installing high-speed broadband in rural areas and Torbay.


As well as developing infrastructure, Mr Benyon also highlighted the 'raw deal' that local constituents had from their water company, South West Water, which remains the company with the highest water bills nationwide. As a result, the Government had recently introduced a reduction of £50 on each household water bill with further plans to reform the industry in the future such as a review on water bills every five years. He stressed the investment being made and jobs created by South West Water. One key area for discussion was the consultation on the establishment of Marine Conservation Zones, MCZs. The Minister is planning to designate 31 of these around our coast which will mean a quarter of our inshore coastal waters are covered by areas of sanctuary. Organisations like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds voiced their concerns particularly in light of the recent mineral oil pollution incident which has killed many hundreds of seabirds. The Minister assured the meeting that this is being investigated and those responsible will be prosecuted for this environmental vandalism.


As well as changes to the European Marine Fisheries Fund (formerly the European Fisheries Fund), the Minister expressed his keenness to reform the fishing industry and end it's 'top-down' structure highlighting the particular need for fairness and sustainability. He is pressing for a regionalised 'sea basin' approach and making progress on reducing discarding of fish by making sure that fishermen can land their whole catch.


Several attendees voiced their support to retain the rescue helicopter and Brixham Coastguard especially in light of the recent event of the tragic death of local fisherman Andy Westaway.


South West Coastal Path Association also voiced concerns over the retention of funding they received from Natural England, the importance of green tourism to our area was referred to by several people.


The Minister said that there was still plenty of work to be done and that he was keen to get the balance right between rival groups on delicate issues such as the environment, adding that rural growth and the natural environment shouldn't be seen as poles apart. If we can increase fish stocks through areas of sanctuary this will benefit the environment and our vital fishing industry.


I was so pleased that the EU Council has agreed to end the policy of discarding dead fish that are caught by accident under the EU Quota Programme. This was a completely impractical and wasteful policy and I hope its removal can be implemented soon. That Ministers have agreed that regions of the EU should be given more control over their fisheries policies is also wonderful news. A reduction in bureaucracy from Brussels can only be beneficial for British fisherman.

I can understand why local fishermen feel that EU fish quotas are based on bad science. After talking to so many people, it is clear that all those with first hand experience in the industry are convinced that the stocks of dover sole are recovering well. There is real concern at the way that stocks are monitored, with sampling taking place over the same line of the seabed on every occasion. The fishing industry would like to see the scientists accompanying them on their trawlers or training the fishermen to take samples themselves. You could not sample the population of deer in a wood by counting those that are present along a particular line on a given day, because they move around. It takes an expert to know where to find them and the same is true of fish stocks.

I am glad that the EU has recognised the highly successful project minus 50%, which, using smart nets, has already massively reduced the dreadful practice of having to discard good fish at sea.

The Brixham fishing industry is very diverse; there were over 30 species present in the market when I visited in October. Inevitably there is not a solution that will suit everyone. Of course we need to protect the marine environment but that should not be at the cost of putting fishermen in danger. If, in special areas of conservation, SACs are too widespread and encompass vast swathes of the ocean rather than just focusing on important seabed features, then inshore fishermen in small boats will be forced further out to sea. This will lead to overfishing in other areas, conflict with other types of fishermen and increased danger to small boats operating too far out at sea.

Surely a better model is to use marine protected zones, MPZs. These are already supported and working successfully to the mutual benefit of crabbers and trawlers. Under this system there are agreed adjacent zones where only one type of fishing is allowed, so that they act as protected nurseries for one species, whilst continuing to provide a sustainable resource of another.