In a breakthrough moment in the UK Fisheries Bill proceedings, the Government has made a serious announcement on the ownership of the UK fishery, stating that the public, not businesses or industry, owns the right to fish in UK waters.
Charles Clover, executive director of the Blue Marine Foundation, said: “The distribution of quota is long overdue for reform; it was a botched privatisation which is unfair to the majority of fishermen, who fish inshore, and has perverse environmental consequences. Now it must be unpicked.”
On Monday, Lord Teverson added an amendment to the Bill stating that the right to fish should be acknowledged to be in public ownership, saying: “if you asked the population and voters of this country who those fish stocks that we now have control over belong to, they would not say the industry, which is 40% owned by foreign companies, but the British people—and they would be right”.
Lord Gardiner, on behalf of the government, confirmed this to be the case: “The Government are clear that there is a public right to these fish. Indeed, lawyers have advised me that UK case law recognises that fish are a public asset, held by the Crown for the benefit of the public”.
Dr Thomas Appleby, a property lawyer at the University of the West of England said: “Crown ownership of the UK fishery for the benefit of the public is a significant step forward. Now the Government has accepted this principle it’s difficult to justify giving quota free to an opaque group of interests who do not necessarily fish by the most environmentally acceptable methods.”
According to Jerry Percy, Director of the New Under Ten Fisherman’s Association and spokesman for the Coastal Producers Organisation, which represents the small scale sector, “78% of the UK fleet that comprises fishing boats of 10 metres and under … currently have access to less than 2% of the national allocation of quota”.
A 2018 report by Greenpeace found that just five families on the Sunday Times Rich List hold or control 29% of the UK’s fishing quota. Last month, a report by the BBC found that £160m worth of English quota is in the hands of vessels owned by companies based in Iceland, Spain and the Netherlands – more than half of the value of English quota.