When did the world of fish become so secretive, and why? This is a question that I have been thinking about a lot recently, and which was today also questioned by The Times.
A key feature about the fishing industry in this country is that the right to fish is considered a national asset. It is held on trust by the UK government on behalf of you and me.
Someone who wants to fish, and to hold fishing quota, must get a licence from the fishing authorities to do so. This licence allows you to exploit this national asset. It does not give you ownership of the asset.
The problem is that for many years, no one has been able to find out where all the fishing quota is, and whether it’s in the hands of working fishermen or not. If quota is a public asset, then why has this been such a problem? And why don’t we know who holds it?
Transparency around fishing quota would also go a long way to alleviate stories on the rumour mill that big brands such as Manchester United and the Royal Bank of Scotland have held or traded quota.
You’ll be heartened to hear then, as was I, that the UK government in a determined move, has committed to pulling together a register of quota holders by the end of 2013, having recognised the current situation is ‘bizarre’. Our fisheries minister Richard Benyon should be applauded for leading the charge on this.
What is really odd then, is that the government’s own marine and fishing arm – the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), which is most in the know about where all the quota is – refuses to recognise that there should be transparency. It claims that this information is too ‘sensitive,’ and that making it public would harm the industry. In short, they claim that the public interest is not great enough.
This regressive, non-transparent position of the MMO is seen as ‘deeply worrying’ by shadow fisheries minister Tom Harris. And I agree.
How can Defra be saying one thing, but its own fishing arm is saying the complete opposite? Feels to me like there must be some very powerful corporate interests lobbying the MMO to keep things secret.
This is not surprising given that the MMO on its watch, has seen large chunks of UK fishing quota fall into the hands of powerful foreign fishing interests, as we exposed last month. Many of these foreign fishing interests use UK fishing quota but land their fish in foreign ports with little or no economic benefit to this country.
There is a growing public interest to know who holds fishing quota. Our fisheries minister needs to stand firm against those corporate interests that fear transparency – they clearly have something to hide.
I look forward to the day that the fishing industry embraces transparency. It would benefit everyone. Ultimately though, the public has the right to know who is exploiting one of our greatest national assets.