How would you feel if you were betrayed by the very people who are meant to be protecting your interests? This is what we discovered about the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO) last month. It turns out that instead of standing up for small scale fishermen, they have actually been trying to deny them the wider representation in Europe that they so desperately need.
Our findings were shocking for an organisation that claims to represent the interests of English, Welsh and Northern Irish fishermen. We revealed that the NFFO is dominated by foreign controlled fishing interests. The numbers show that while only 42 out of 263 member vessels (which together form the bulk of their membership), are foreign, those 42 vessels are by far the largest and most powerful. In fact a staggering 57% of gross tonnage (meaning fishing capacity) of the NFFO’s fleet is controlled by companies or individuals overseas. This means that the UK fishing quota used by these vessels and the profits from this fishing fill the coffers of foreign companies and individuals.
The good news is, the fisheries minister has finally taken notice that something is not quite right in the way fishing quota is given over to foreign vessels, and has just announced a review of the conditions under which foreign-controlled boats can access UK fishing rights. This move could lead to more quota being allocated to sustainable fishermen with closer ties to their coastal communities. But this solves just part of the problem, as fishing quota barons are still keeping their cards close to their chest.
The NFFO doesn’t want anyone to see its membership list, and has refused to reveal it. So we have decided to do part of their job for them, by publishing details about some vessel members. We have uncovered information about 263 of their members, and we are releasing it to you. This is no doubt the most controversial part of the list – because it contains the foreign controlled boats. It’s what the NFFO doesn’t want you to see. View the raw data here.
Revealing this is important because the NFFO is the UK government’s top fishing industry advisory body and has a huge influence on the development of fishing policies in the UK and at an EU level, such as the Common Fisheries Policy. With great influence comes great responsibility. But the NFFO clearly does not abide by this principle because they continue to prefer secrecy about their members over transparency. This begs the question: what are they hiding? And what interests are they protecting?
So what does this list show?
- Two out of the 8 NFFO affiliated producer organisations are 100% dominated by Dutch fishing interests with a further 3 being dominated 76% or more by Dutch, Icelandic or Spanish interests – see our neat infographic for more details.
- There are 42 vessels in the NFFOs fleet that are foreign controlled and these happen to count for the majority of their largest and most powerful vessels, such as the Cornelis Vrolijk and the Marbella
- These foreign vessels are often massive, with enormous catch capacity. The average gross tonnage of vessels in the 5 POs with foreign controlled members is much higher than the 3 that mainly represent UK controlled vessels. For example, average gross tonnage in the FPO is 1878GT whilst in the Anglo-North Irish PO its 149GT.
- The NFFO gets much more money, on average, from its foreign controlled members than its UK controlled members. Dutch boats in the North Atlantic PO for example pay on average £4,000 per year per vessel to have the NFFO represent them, whilst the UK vessels pay on average less than £435 per year.
These foreign controlled vessels are clearly a dominating force within the NFFO and it is shocking that it refuses to be transparent about the interests it represents.
So what now?
Ultimately, we need a fishing industry and representative organisations that believe in transparency, rather than making profits in secrecy. This is the NFFO’s chance to come clean about its dirty secret, and publish the rest of its member vessels, especially as we’ve now done a big part of it for them!
It is up to the UK government and our fisheries minister Richard Benyon to make sure they are clear about who lobbies them, and what interests they are representing. This list should help.
It is transparency we all want, from who our representative bodies represent right through to who holds fishing quota. Before we can move forwards towards a more sustainable fishing industry Pandora’s Box must be opened.