Suffolk Coast: Landmark quota decision hailed as victory for small scale fishermen

Fishermen in Aldeburgh are vital to the town's economy

Fishermen in Aldeburgh are vital to the town's economy - Credit:

A landmark victory for small scale fishermen over big producers was last night hailed a vital step towards protecting the future of Suffolk’s historic coastal towns and villages.

The under-10metre fleets in communities such as Aldeburgh, Southwold, Felixstowe, Dunwich and Orford have found it difficult to stay in business because of strict restrictions on how much they can catch.

But yesterday’s High Court decision gave the Government the power to redistribute fishing quota which is regularly untouched by larger vessels to these smaller scale operations.

The ruling - which is being seen as a historic test case over who “owns” and controls national fishing quotas - has been welcomed as the first step on a long road to fairer allocations.

It could also go some way to helping safeguard the future of Suffolk’s small scale fishermen, who are vital to the county’s multi million pound tourism industry and contribute so much to the atmosphere and charm of the region’s coastal communities.

Jacki McNeill, secretary of the Aldeburgh Fishermen’s Association, said yesterday’s decision was cause for optimism but warned the fight had only just begun.

“It’s really just the first step,” she said. “It’s going to be a long haul as I think the big operators will fight it. However at least we’re going the right way.

Most Read

“It gives us a platform and it’s a positive move. But it’s a starting block from which we can now negotiate a better deal overall. Otherwise all of these things that people enjoy so much will die.

“The fishermen are vital to the character of the town. It’s more than just a few boats - they contribute to the whole atmosphere. It’s why people visit.

“If you take that away then it will never come back. This decision gives us a chance to continue that fight. There is still a way to go but at least we can do it with real optimism which is something we haven’t had.”

Simon Tobin, mayor of Southwold, echoed the comments, saying he was absolutely delighted with the decision.

He said the town was hoping to build up its small scale fishing fleet and had already had two or three enquiries about possible moves into the harbour.

“The fishermen are vital for the character of the town and we’re looking forward to the future,” he added.

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey described the ruling as “great news” and said it provides real hope for a fairer quota deal in the future.

“This decision is hugely important for the long term survival of our under 10m fleets,” she said. “Fishing is an inherent part of our culture in Suffolk and has long been important for our sense of identity.”

MEP Geoffrey Van Orden added: “Giving our smaller fishing boats a share of the unused excess quotas from larger vessels will, I hope, ensure a more sustainable and efficient local fishing industry.”

Yesterday’s High Court challenge was brought by the UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations, which represents the larger vessels.

It argued the Government’s decision to reallocate its unused fish quotas was unlawful under both EU and domestic law.

But Mr Justice Cranston rejected the challenge and ruled there was no discrimination.

Greenpeace and the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA), which represents small-scale fishermen, also intervened in the case.

NUTFA’s chief executive Jerry Percy said the decision gave the Government the chance to review the entire basis of allocating fishing rights and, through that, provide a lifeline to the smaller-scale fishermen who are the lifeblood of many coastal communities.

Under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy larger vessels currently control more than 90% of quotas in the UK, while those in under 10m vessels have access to just 4% - despite making up three quarters of the commercial fleet.