Caught out: major UK lobby plays smoke and mirrors with fishing reform

Posted by Ariana Densham — 4 February 2013 at 9:00am - Comments

At a time when we’re all concerned about what goes into our food, the phrase "it's not what it says on the tin,” has never been more appropriate. Our latest investigation into one of the most powerful and influential fishing industry bodies in the UK has exposed a clique of foreign fishing barons, including companies linked to illegal and destructive fishing.

It’s a classic case of smoke and mirrors, and at stake is one of our greatest national assets – fish.

This is likely to be the first time anyone has scrutinised the claims and membership of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) despite its role as one of the government’s main industry advisory bodies on fishing matters. I'm sure the government will be as surprised as I was at what we uncovered.

The NFFO claims to be "the representative body for fishermen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland," looking out for the interests of boats both small and large. An ambitious role we thought, so we decided to investigate how true this was.

Over many long months looking into the secret membership of the NFFO, by analysing complex company accounts and shipping registers, we were all astonished to discover that:

  1. Over half of the NFFOs fleet is controlled by foreign fishing interests. This means that, whilst these boats sail under the Union Jack, they are ultimately controlled by companies or individuals from other countries. This means they use the UK's fishing quota, and will often fish in UK waters; however, they probably contribute next to nothing to the UK economy. The kicker here is that these boats are some of the largest and most powerful in the fleet.  
  2. The NFFO is inflating its claims as to how many fishermen’s associations it actually represents. We were able to verify that 11 out of 20 listed on the NFFO's website are in fact not members. These include associations that are no longer members, have never been members or don’t even exist anymore.
  3. The NFFO is working against the interests of small-scale fishermen. In a letter leaked to our investigators, we discovered that the NFFO is trying to deny small-scale fishermen wider representation on key political forums in Europe. This is really significant at a time when the overarching rules governing fishing in Europe are being reformed.
  4. The NFFO represents vessels involved in illegal fishing on a large scale. For example, the O Genita and its Spanish Vidal family owners – who we exposed in another investigation last year – is an NFFO member and was central to the largest illegal fishing case in British maritime history with penalties of £1.62m.

What does this all mean?

Our investigation reveals that the more sustainable part of our fishing fleet is being shut out of the very system that dictates whether they prosper or go bust. The NFFO is giving the impression that it represents most of the fleet and that it's a friend of small scale boats, but this investigation shows that their membership is dominated by large powerful, often foreign controlled vessels, and they just pay lip service to the interests of the small scale fleet.

In a situation where about two-thirds of Europe’s fish stocks are overfished, it is crucial we defend the interests of those that fish in a more sustainable way and with a lower impact on the environment. Over three-quarters of the fishing boats in the UK fleet are considered small scale. They are vital to our fishing industry as they support more jobs – in England this fleet represents 65% of jobs at sea – and they help to maintain the social cultural and economic fabric of the coastal communities we all love so much.

This sector is desperately trying to forge itself better representation at a political level to try to match the might of the NFFO, so it's simply shocking that the NFFO is trying to prevent this.

Of course, fisheries minister Richard Benyon could reassure everyone that he isn't simply taking his cues from a one-sided lobby group. What he should be looking for from the NFFO is transparency: a public list of members, for instance, or corrections for the false claims it's made about various fishermen's associations it represents.

What’s in the tin really matters, and it seems we really have opened a can of worms with this one.

Help our small scale fishermen by emailing your MEP ahead of this week’s crucial vote on the future of Europe’s fishing laws.

Greenpeace wont be happy until this islands inhabitants are eating tofu and soy based products ,they dont give a fig about facts or figures if they are not their owned skewed numbers,UK fishermen have over the past devade been introducing and trialing fishing gear which is more selective ,the CFP and Brussels are the common enemy here

Its another clear example of how destructive multinationals and oligopolies are to our communities, environment and economy. This goes beyond a manageable market failure, this is private profit from destroying our food security and also the opportunity for coastal people in england to work in fishing... anothe cost that the public are meant to accept! We need to support small scale , sustainable fishing and get rid of the TECSO trawlers. Fish are a public good and should be managed as such. 

No such thing as Tesco Trawlers , most UK boats although opffice owned or more likely part owned by offices and share fishermen , not multi nationals , How does Greenpeace define the ownership of vessel by flag ,company as a vessel listed as owned by Caley/P&J Johnstone will still be part owned by others as well , Where do you start with support for inshore vessels under  and 350hp 10 metre or 17m 250 hp day vessel , How about Static Gear/Single/Twin trawl/Beam Trawl/Scallop Dredger ,how about crews numbers , /pot numbers , Greenpeace cant just descriminate one over the other as the UK fishing industry is about as diverse as it goes

Until recently I have admired Greenpeaces perceived principled stand on environmental matters but gradually I have seen the organisation turn into a cash hungry corporation that rides bandwagons to generate funds, effectively just as cynical as the multi national corporations it is opposed to like Shell, MacDonalds etc.

Take the current fishing campaign where Greenpeace has arbitarily declared ALL fishing vessels over 10 metres to be "bad" which is in reality emotive hysterical codswallop (no pun intended) and now its broadside at the NFFO which is riddled with half truths untruths and hysteria.

I know Paul Trebilcock Chair of the NFFO personally, he is an tough astute principled negotiator who has done a huge amount of good for the Cornish fishing industry over several years of dealing with the Brussels monster being instrumental in encouraging good science to prove the case he continues to make.

How different to that media savvy old Etonian philistine Hugh Fearnley Whittingstal who went steaming into the furore with his fish fight without anything but the most rudimentary grasp of the facts or indeed the cause and effect of his self publicising actions foisted on a gulliable audience equally ill informed but hanginfg on his every utterance as the oracle.

Now we have the obscene situation where quite rightly discards will be banned but the over quota fish will be consigned to landfill which in reality is but another form of discarding, the only positive being that true fishing mortality will be steblished beyond reasonable doubt but priceless food will still be destroyed while half the world starves.



This is typical divide & rule tactics! Anyone that has a different opinion to Greenpeace is a criminal & has to be discredited! What FEW fisherman are left in this country are all doing the best they can to make an honest living WITHOUT destroying the sea. HFW & Greenpeace have no idea, all they can say is BAN DISCARDS, they never tell you what you are supposed to do with these discards! You all helped create this stupid problem by FALSELY saying there are no fish in the sea & forcing EU to cut quotas!

How can Greenpeace get a story so wrong. The facts are all wrong. Vast majority of NFFO members are inshore fishermen,skipper owners or family owned boats. I am an inshore fisherman also chairman of a small under 10 fishermens association,all of whom have been long term members of the NFFO. I am chairman of NFFO North East region, half of our members are under 10 small scale fishermen.. The rest of our members are all inshore fishermen with bigger boats but all skipper owned and most you would class as small scale day boats. Did Greenpeace just listen to the twaddle from NUTFA instead of researching their facts. what a bunch of amateurs NFFO is the UK Fishermens representive organisation and we support it.

Nice Blog keept it up

Given that Greenpeace's infographic has been exposed as wholly innacurate, a complete inversion of reality, will Greenpeace be apologising to the NFFO and removing its misinformation?

@ Kevin Bennetts

We agree that the size of the fishing vessel is not the whole story. That’s why our focus has always been on supporting low impact fishing, regardless of the size of boat. However, it must be pointed out that many low impact fishermen do fit into the under-10 metre category.

@ nedclark

The majority (57%) of NFFO members by gross tonnage (an established measure of fishing capacity) is foreign controlled - a different picture than the one painted by the NFFO, who refuse to make their membership list public. In fact, 17 of 20 fishermen’s associations were taken off the NFFO’s website after Greenpeace investigated whether the NFFO was giving a misleading impression about who it actually represents.

Many fishermen have been questioning whether the NFFO really represents their interests, as news spreads of how the NFFO lobbied the EU against organisations that represent small scale fishermen from gaining wider access to Regional Advisory Councils.

@ NFFO Far from being inaccurate, the information on our infographic comes directly from your website, at which states “The 2012 annual rate is £1.05 per Vessel Capacity Unit + VAT.” You subsequently claimed that the largest vessels in your membership get a special discount - I wonder what your under 10m members make of this. Will the NFFO finally be making your membership list public, and moving towards transparency over secrecy?

I am really impressed by the work you did in this article. It’s great enough to pull my attention and in reading this article for once to understand that your pen is really mightier than the sword.

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I am really impressed by the work you did in this article. It’s great enough to pull my attention and in reading this article for once to understand that your pen is really mightier than the sword.

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About Ariana

I’m Ariana and I’m an campaigner in the Oceans team at Greenpeace UK.  

interested? Follow me on twitter @arianadensham


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