Over the Waves

The Referendum

The vote by 51.9% of the UK population to leave the European Union was both a momentous and unexpected episode in our history.  Many fishermen, particularly those of the older generation,  had been fighting for just such a result ever since being forced unwillingly into the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in the seventies.  

On Wednesday 15 June, three boats from Plymouth and two from Cawsand in Cornwall joined a national flotilla of fishing boats on the River Thames in support of the "leave" campaign. The beam trawlers Admiral Blake PH440, Admiral Gordon PH330 and Carhelmar BM23 sailed from Plymouth and the crabber Bosloe PH122 and trawler Freedom SD383 sailed from Cawsand.  The Bosloe was skippered by its owner Sam Jago whose late father Tony Jago had skippered the vessel on a similar, campaigning  trip back in 1971.  Tony Edwards, skipper of the Freedom, took his under 10 metre vessel, single- handedly, into the heart of the capital, a trip of some thirty hours each way.

Stupidity knows no bounds.

Members of the public may not be aware that the division of the European Commission that deals with fisheries excels in stupidity.  Indeed it has taken stupidity to a whole new art form in the last couple of years and has become the darling of the fanatics who dislike the commercial fishing industry.

Scientists have recently expressed concerns about the state of stocks of sea bass in UK waters. There is always room for improved fishery science to establish the true state of any given stock.  The Industry has done much in recent years to engage in fishery science projects with the scientists to agree sensible and practical conservation measures where a problem is detected.   Therefore when a problem such as the bass arises, one might think the sensible way forward would be for scientists, fishermen, fisheries managers and administrators to sit down and discuss sensible and workable ways to conserve the stock.

The Commission, of course, ever aware of its need to assert and preserve its own unaccountable power base, had different ideas.  Just one of the panic measures it decided to introduce was to allow demersal trawlers the right to retain and land just a 1% by-catch of bass against the total catch of the boat. In the south west, trawlers engage in a mixed fishery where they often catch as many as 25 different species per day.  Bass are just an unavoidable, occasional but welcome by-catch, welcome because of their high value. In the past of course, trawlers did not have to return any bass to the sea. What would be the point of returning high value,dead bass to the sea that you can't avoid catching? Answers on a post-card please.

The smaller trawlers in the south west, at the moment, are catching an average gross weight of all species of about 400 kgs allowing them to land just 4 kgs of bass.  If the boat is lucky enough to accidentally come by just one box of bass (30 kgs), it has to discard 26 kgs of these fish back over the side into the water at a loss to the boat and crew of about £208 at modest prices.

We would simply like to say that the bass would not survive and therefore there are no conservation benefits in returning them to the sea. They are an unavoidable by-catch in a mixed fishery.  It really is difficult to understand the minds of the people who introduce such legislation, particularly bearing in mind all the good work being undertaken by the Industry. Three words spring to mind, illogical, stupid and spiteful.


All employers would like to be able to offer their employees the security of full-time work. Not all industries, however, lend themselves to full-time employment throughout the workforce because of the variable and seasonal nature of the work and the uncertain supply chain.  The Fishing Industry is a classic example of  of a primary industry riven with uncertainty from ship to shore where nothing is guaranteed or assured and the only certainty is uncertainty.

All types of commercial fishing boats in the UK are affected by the weather.  Genuine inshore vessels are frequently tied up for days at a time in the winter and even the larger trawlers and beam trawlers have been affected by the more extreme weather conditions experienced in recent years.  In addition, skippers have to cope with stringent quotas, days at sea restrictions, complex legislation, closed areas, offshore wind farms, aggregate dredging, pollution and breakdowns.

Therefore it is very difficult to predict with any accuracy the supply of fish to market even on a day to day basis and consequently it is just as difficult to call in the right number of staff at short notice to deal with the fish. Busy markets with up to 60 tonnes of fish may require up to 14 staff on a long shift whereas 10 tonne markets may require only 3 or 4 staff on a shorter shift.

Zero hour contracts are not the social evil portrayed by pompous commentators.  They are a necessary, if not ideal solution, for many types of work in different industries.  Most of our market floor employees are on such contracts. We utilize the contracts as sympathetically as possible but to be blunt, when there is no work there is no work.  Employees have the same rights as full-time workers and we do have a bonus scheme which rewards hard work and reliability.  Finally, all applicants are warned in no uncertain terms about the nature of such contracts and the lack of guaranteed hours at the outset so there is no room for misunderstanding. 

We leave you with the thought that most fishermen are paid on a share of the catch.  Unlike most of us ashore, they are not guaranteed a single penny in wages each time they go to sea. Furthermore their best laid plans are frequently interrupted by unforeseen events. Perhaps it is not surprising that fisheries related work ashore is equally unpredictable and difficult to organise.

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