Wednesday, September 02, 2009

We thought of it first

Joe Borg, the EU Fisheries Commissioner, has called for an end to "discards". Instead, we are told, he believes that fishermen should be limited by "effort". For example limiting the number of days vessels can spend at sea or where boats can fish. "Replacing quotas by effort can be a very effective way of reducing the environmental impact of fisheries, and in particular of discards," he says.

This has been picked up by the BBC which retails the Scottish Fishermen's Federation welcome for the idea, although SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong also warns that simplifying issues may not solve them. "The consequences of using days at sea as the only control measure will require a great deal more thought. It is at best unpredictable and may, for some fisheries create more problems than it solves."

"Nevertheless," Armstrong adds, "it is an encouragement that the Commissioner is prepared to be truly radical and look at all options. We will, therefore, be asking him as a matter of urgency for more detail on what he is actually proposing."

Of course, if you want more detail of how a fisheries scheme could work, you need go no further that look at Owen Paterson's draft, dated January 2005, which we heralded on this blog. In pre-eminent position as one of our recommendations was: "Effort control based on 'days at sea' instead of fixed quotas," with much more detail of how that system could work.

Although then adopted by the Conservative Party as policy, it was quietly dropped when Cameron ascended to the throne and has been ignored even since by the Party. Now, nearly four years later, the EU commissioner is coming round to our way of thinking. But it also says a great deal that what was urgent those four years ago is still urgent, and the commission is still just talking about "reform".

At least, though, the commission is talking, which is more than is the Conservative Party, which has long since abandoned the fishing industry to its fate. Our Dave doesn't "do" Europe, which is why some of the campaigners who were once at the forefront of trying to get the Party to move on this issue have given up completely – and voted BNP at the last euro-elections.

But, in another five years time, perhaps, when the commission finally get down to offering formal proposals, to deal with what is left of the fishing industry, Dave can dust off Owen's paper and pretend it was his idea all along. We thought of it first, he can say, and all the little Tory boys can cheer at their good fortune at having such a far-seeing leader.