"Nothing could be clearer than the need for an independent review of the Marine Management Organisation's fisheries functions given the sequential failures of the Organisation to get a grip of its central functions and cross-party criticism in Parliament. Yet we are being fobbed off with the usual promises and evasions," said NFFO Chairman Tony Delahunty.
"Shellfish policy is another area where there is absolutely no prospect of progress this side of an election. Getting capacity in line with available resources is the absolute fundamental tenet of sound management, yet the Government dithers about putting a cap on the number of high volume crab vessels, and witters about "voluntary measures". Government inertia raises serious questions about how this fleet will be able to exist within the context of the western waters effort regime. It is abrogating its responsibilities."
"It is clear that the implications of the landing obligation and knock-on consequences for adjacent fisheries like shellfish have not been thought through. But what are all those category B and C licences going to do now they cannot discard but have no quota allocations? There is only silence on these issues."
"Bass is another area of concern. The Commission's emergency measures are no doubt eye catching but they do not represent a comprehensive response that addresses all sources of fishing mortality, including the catch of recreational anglers."
The Executive did take heart however, that the Federation's work to challenge media misconceptions and distortions was making solid progress.
"Challenging lazy and sensationalist stories, whilst initiating coverage of the positive developments in our fisheries, had made 2014 a much more "fishing friendly" year in the media than the previous year," said Delahunty. "We have agreed to continue this effort in 2015 with campaigns focused on sustainable fishing, the need for diverse fleets, fisheries science partnerships and food security."
Looming over the future are the implications of the EU landings obligation when applied to the demersal fisheries in 2016. The lack of clarity about what the discard ban will mean at vessel level – which species will be included and when? What exemptions will be available? How the ban will be monitored and enforced? What the ban will mean for quotas and quota management? All await answers and in the meantime generate concern and uncertainty within the industry.
A DEFRA consultation on the demersal landings obligation is imminent but it is unlikely that much clarity will be available in the first half of the year. In these circumstances it is very difficult for vessels to prepare for the biggest change to the CFP since its inception, say the NFFO.
"All in all, given the inertia in government and the lack of clarity about the landings obligation, this is a period of great uncertainty and frustration in the industry, even at a time when the fundamentals – fishing pressure and stocks – are heading steadily in the right direction," Delahunty adds.