New fishing quotas 'may spell disaster'

THE livelihoods of hundreds of fishermen in East Anglia could be placed in jeopardy when new EU catch limits are imposed this week, it has been warned.

By Roddy Ashworth

THE livelihoods of hundreds of fishermen in East Anglia could be placed in jeopardy when new EU catch limits are imposed this week, it has been warned.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) plans to severely restrict the number of North Sea sole - the staple fish for the East Anglian fleet - which boats measuring under 10 metres in length can catch, the EADT can reveal today.

The move to impose the limits will make it uneconomical for up to 100 boats to operate off the East coast, leaving their owners and workers with no viable income, an Essex fisherman said yesterday.

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“It's going to wipe us off the face of the earth,” said Clive Mills, who has fished off West Mersea all his life.

Mr Mills said that his two-man boat, Harvester, normally lands around 1,900 kilograms of sole per month, valued at about £8,550, during the summer.

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Out of this money he pays for insurance, maintenance, repairs, mooring, fuel, life raft fees and draws two wages along with other costs.

However, as from Friday his boat will only be permitted to catch 200 kilos of sole per month - valued at just £900.

“The East Anglian fishermen have always relied on sole. There is no other fish we can catch to that level with trawlers. It is 80% of our income and always has been.

“We are a commercial business. It's not like farmers - we don't get set-aside money. We need to make about £70,000 a year for it to be viable.

“We have watched catches being systematically limited for boats over 10 metres, which is why we are now on smaller boats. Now boats under 10 metres are to have limits for the first time.

“The population is healthy. There are lots of undersized fish. This is due to EU fishery quotas and mismanagement in London. It is an economic measure - it is not about fish numbers.

“This will be the straw that breaks the camel's back as far as us lot are concerned. It could be the end of the majority of fishing boats off the East coast.”

Last night John Jowers, vice-chairman of the West Mersea Fisherman's Association, said: “These new limits come after 20 years of Draconian fishing quotas being imposed every year.

“It shows that quotas just do not work. This policy, which is supposedly designed to make the seas full of fishes, is now about to wipe out the East Anglian fishing industry, which it was supposed to be protecting.”

There are fears the latest quota cuts may lead to even more fishermen using small licensed boats on the Suffolk coast giving up.

Alan Wood is one of the few full-time fishermen left at Aldeburgh.

“This latest quota announcement will hit fishermen like myself very hard.

“I am still trying to get my head round the figures but really they are quite dreadful,” he said.

Mr Wood said sole were the mainstay of the fishermen's catch during the summer months and yesterday he landed 25kg.

“Even 25kg is not what we would call a good catch as on a good day we could land 50kg.

“But under the new quotas we could only have eight days a month landing 25kg of sole which would mean the boat being idle for nearly three weeks out of four,” he said.

Dover sole is also the main catch for other fishermen along the north Suffolk coast at communities including Southwold, Dunwich, Kessingland and Lowestoft.

With no deep sea fleet based in Lowestoft it is only those fishermen operating small boats under ten metres in length that are maintaining what has been a way of life in the county for generations.

Yesterday a spokesperson for Defra confirmed that the new limits for the North Sea would be announced on Friday and said that the move was being taken because of fears over fish numbers.

“We have taken this step, reluctantly, to keep the fishery open. Without such action the quota allocation for these vessels would almost certainly have been taken in full, and the fishery closed, before the end of the summer.

“This action is being taken because of high landings by these vessels in 2003, coupled with the impact of successive reductions in EU quotas.

“Between 1996 and 2002 the UK's quota for North Sea sole fell by 30 per cent, reflecting concerns about the health of this stock.

“During the same period, recorded landings by the under 10 metre fleet rose by 29 per cent.

“At July 24 2003, recorded landings of North Sea sole by under ten metre vessels stood at 100 tonnes against an allocation of 138 tonnes.

“Our priority is to keep the fishery open for as long as possible: if there is scope within the quota available to raise the limit without prejudice to this objective we will of course do so.”

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