Suffolk coast: MEP Geoffrey Van Orden calls for fishing quota reforms

AN MEP has thrown his weight behind a bid to ensure Suffolk’s under-threat fishermen are given a fairer deal.

Geoffrey Van Orden recently challenged European fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki when she addressed a meeting of the European Conservative and Reformists Group in the European Parliament. Mr Van Orden, who has been a staunch supporter of the fishing industry, called for particular attention to be given to the needs of fishermen using small under 10m boats.

The amount of fish that vessels are allowed to catch is set out by the EU in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). It varies according to time of year, type of catch and location but on average under 10m boats have access to just 4% of the overall quota – despite making up 77% of the UK’s fishing fleet. The policy is now being negotiated and fishermen in Suffolk are demanding a fairer deal.

Mr Van Orden said: “I have always taken the view that the EU’s CFP was bad for the fishermen and bad for the fish and the Commissioner recognised that many of us wanted a return of our fishing industry to national control.

“She has been a breath of fresh air in her attitude but, as a European commissioner, she still seems to attach more importance to the integrity of the EU treaties than to a sustainable fishing industry. She responded positively to my plea for more attention to the needs of the under 10m vessels. She held out the encouraging prospect of 75% co-financing for under 10m boats; assistance in upgrading vessels; and the advantage to coastal fishermen of a distinction between ‘fresh’ and ‘frozen’ in the labelling of fish. I take that as encouragement of my view that repatriating CFP is the only long-term answer.”

Roger Hipwell, chairman of the Orford and District Inshore Fishermen’s Association, has warned current legislation is forcing the inshore fishing fleet into a terminal decline.

“Our members are fishermen who wish to fish, not leave the industry because their sustainable methods have been sacrificed by governments unwilling to stand up to large fishing organisations,” he said.

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The Marine Management Organisation, the regulatory body for the UK’s fishing industry, has said it welcomes changes and is working hard to find an alternative to current policy. Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon has said he is committed to reform.