UK fishing's fat cats to be unmasked by the minister
A long-awaited registry of exactly who owns the rights to land what fish in the UK is set to be made public after years of campaigning by Westcountry fishermen.
The disclosure, which will also note the nationality of the quota owner, has been promised by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman in a bid to make the controversial process more transparent.
Dave Cuthbert, Plymouth-based chairman of the New Under Ten (metres) Fishermen's Association, said it was about time.
"This is long overdue," he said. "We have been asking for this for a long time and I think it will make very interesting reading."
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The under-10 metre fleet, the exact opposite of the large, industrial scale boats run by many quota-owning companies, say they have been pressing the Government for a long time on the subject.
"We have been asking for this registry for two or three years," said Mr Cuthbert. "There are a lot of rumours around the industry about who has what quota, but nobody really knows for certain."
Under EU quota rules Britain can catch 600,000 tons of cod, haddock, herring and other species a year. However, many British fishermen given an individual quota in the 1980s have since sold it, often overseas.
Additionally, when boats have been decommissioned, fishermen are able to sell off their quotas – or even keep them until they attract a high enough bid.
The situation has created what Mr Cuthbert called "quota traders".
"There is a lot of movement of quota and it can be difficult to find out who has what," he said. "More than £122 million has been spent decommissioning fishing boats, but the fishermen are allowed to keep the quota and sell it on.
That has mean that there is a massive amount of quota which has sometimes ended up in the hands of just a few people."
Mr Cuthbert said publishing the nationalities of those who hold UK fishing quota would be "very interesting".
Lack of transparency in fishing quota ownership has led many to suspect UK allocations have been allowed to end up in foreign hands.
In April, two Spanish fishermen and two company directors appeared at Truro Crown Court to admit flouting European fishing quota laws in Westcountry waters.
Charges included conspiracy to defraud the Marine Management Organisation and other EU groups responsible for enforcing fishing laws by lying in log books and landing declarations to disguise the amount of fish they caught.
Mrs Spelman told the Sunday Times that the registry will be published next year.
"We have pledged to make public a register of who has the quota so there is transparency. We have given a commitment to publish that next year."
A spokesman for Defra told the Western Morning News: "We want to make fishing quota ownership more transparent and recently consulted on plans to introduce a quota register and quota trading website.
"We're currently looking at the comments received and how we will make this happen."