This weekend I will be visiting fishermen in Newlyn to discuss the problems they have had over the last six weeks as a result of the stormy weather which has severely restricted the number of days they have been able to spend at sea as well as causing considerable damage to boats and fishing equipment.
While it has undoubtedly been a very difficult start to the year for Cornish fishermen, I think the longer term outlook gives some grounds for optimism because, at the beginning of January, the EU finally put into law a new reform of the Common Fisheries Policy which has the potential to deliver radical change as well as become a potential model for further reform in other areas of European policy.
There are a number of really important aspects to the new CFP deal. Firstly, there is a commitment to ban the discard of good fish. It has always been a disgraceful practice that perfectly healthy fish are thrown dead back into the sea simply because the fisherman who landed them did not happen to have the right quota. That will now end.
Secondly, to help make the discard ban work in practice, fishermen will receive a quota uplift so they can land more. They will also be granted much greater flexibility so that if they unexpectedly land more of one species for which they have no quota, then they will be allowed to count it against quota for another species instead rather than be forced to throw it dead back into the sea. If they happen to do better than expected at the end of the year, then they will also be allowed to borrow some quota from the following year.
The third key aspect of the new policy is that there is now a legally binding commitment to fish sustainably or at what scientists call Maximum Sustainable Yield. This means that we have a policy that focuses on the outcome rather than getting too bogged down in process and all member states in the EU have accepted this approach.
Finally, the new CFP has moved away from a centralised model where the entire EU sets out prescriptive policies. In future small groups of member states who have a shared interest in a particular fishery will decide on the management measures that will deliver sustainable fishing. Because they all have an interest in the future of the fishery, they are more likely to put thought into getting things right.
Taken together, these reforms have the potential to be a radical reform. I really hope both the industry and all EU governments will roll their sleeves up to make this a success.
George Eustice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.