Calls for public accountability in Common Fisheries Policy

Issue date: 21 December 2009

University of the West of England A researcher at the University of the West of England (UWE, Bristol) has linked with a number of coastal community groups in the UK to call for greater public accountability in the way EU seas are managed.

Thomas Appleby (UWE), with the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) and other groups, has drafted a response to the current EU consultation on the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The response complains that EU policy has ignored that the fishery is a public resource owned by the member states' citizens. The response calls into question whether the general public are adequately consulted and whether the public receive any benefit from the exploitation of their resource. The response goes on to question whether the EU's stated view that the fishing industry is essential for coastal livelihoods is appropriate. In the view of the respondents EU policy should focus solely on sustainable stock management, attempts by Europe to subsidise fishermen's livelihoods are likely to have had the opposite effect and actively encourage over-fishing.

Tom Appleby, a lawyer from the Property and Construction Department at UWE said, “The UK's jurisdiction covers about 5 1/2 million square kilometres of sea – which puts us in the top ten countries in the world for the size of the sea area we control. As a nation we love the sea, and we need to have more of a say in how fish stocks and the resources of the sea are managed. So far the CFP has left far too many difficult decisions in the hands of the fishing industry, and politicians who have tended to pay too much heed to short term ambitions of a small number of business interests - ; it's been like putting children in charge of the sweetshop.”

“The UK's fishery is a valuable natural resource which is being squandered through basic errors in the way fisheries are managed. The public own the fishery and there should be clear accountability in the way that commercial interests exploit it.

“As an expert in the law of commercial property rights, I am shocked by the way in which decisions are currently taken about valuable national resources in the sea. We need far more public understanding and consideration so that decisions can be made which balance the competing interests relating to these important resources.”

The twelve page response has been sent to the Director of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs on points they have requested as part of the EU consultation process which ends on 31 December. The response has been endorsed by a number of coastal communities who have complained that coastal industries such as tourism, recreational angling, diving and marine conservation have suffered as a result of important decisions being taken without adequate public scrutiny.

Howard Wood, Chairman of the COAST, said, “UWE's research certainly holds true in the Clyde where the local inshore fishery management group (IFG) is entirely made up of commercial fishermen, most of whom operate relatively debateable fishing practices. As a result of this sort of close liaison between industry and government the Clyde, once one of Europe's finest inshore fisheries, has been destroyed. There are practically no fish left, and the commercial fleet have had to resort to towing gear along the bottom for prawns and scallops. We want to see the fish come back, and we feel this can only happen if fisheries management is carried out in the open and with the public's interest at its heart.”

Tom Appleby is a senior lecturer in law in the Department of Property and Construction at UWE. He teaches property management law and his research on fisheries management is based on the application of tried and tested principles of resource management.

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