14/08/2015 13:25 BST | Updated 14/08/2016 06:59 BST

There's Something Fishy in the Tory Government's First 100 Days


To mark 100 days of the first Conservative government in nearly 20 years, HuffPost UK is running 100 Days of Dave, a special series of blog posts from grassroots campaigners to government ministers, single parents to first-year students, reflecting on what's worked and what hasn't, whilst looking for solutions to the problems we still face.

Back in April of this year, as parliamentary candidates across the political spectrum gripped a fish for the cameras and pledged to fight for local fishing-communities - it seemed that a swell of support for sustainable, small-scale, fishing was finally washing into parliament after years of neglect by successive governments.

"Grab a cod and gurn," one newspaper urged would-be MPs, as 120 parliamentary candidates in key coastal constituencies signed Greenpeace's pledge to reallocate fishing quota from huge boats to local, low-impact, fishers.

The Conservatives were in tandem with Labour - the Green Party even agreed with Ukip: such a move would regenerate fish stocks as well as coastal economies - safeguarding livelihoods and marine environments. As fish became the must-have prop of the election campaign, every major party committed in its manifesto to fairer allocation for local fishers.

But if a week is a long time in politics, 100 days is a whole age. And the past 100 days have been bad news both for the environment and for the future of coastal communities in the UK.

David Cameron's government is still allocating the vast majority of the UK's quota to industrial fishing vessels, despite Conservative Party pledges, and despite the landmark reform of the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2013 - which the Tories worked for - and which codified the environmental, social and economic benefits of low-impact fishing fleets.

That's why we're taking the government to court.

Greenpeace argues that, in line with Article 17 of the CFP, the government must consider the environmental, social and economic impact when allocating quota. This should logically result in local fishers receiving more fishing quota because they operate more sustainably, have lower CO2 emissions and provide more jobs than the large trawlers.

While small fishing vessels (under 10m) account for nearly 80% of the English and Welsh fleet - they only have access to a mere 6% of the English fishing quota. Meanwhile, large vessels are allocated huge portions of it, with single industrial vessels receiving more than the entire small fleet combined.

This has a negative impact on both the environment and the UK's coastal communities.

Overfishing by the industrial scale fleet is depleting UK fish stocks. In 2009 the UK fishing fleet landed its lowest haul since records began in 1950 - and things haven't improved much since then.

In the Northeast Atlantic area (which includes the North Sea), the European Commission estimates that the percentage of stocks known to be overfished has increased over the last two years, from 39% in 2013 up to 48% in 2015.

This is environmentally and economically unsustainable.

The decline in hauls has meant that, increasingly, fishing just isn't providing enough of an income to live on - including for many whose families have worked in small-scale fishing for generations.

Many fishermen are facing bankruptcy, and the ripples of this tragedy are being felt socially and economically.

The state of the UK's coastal communities is shocking. A report in 2013 found that more than a third of towns with the highest personal bankruptcy levels in the UK were located on the coast. Declining income from fishing has played a central part in this social and economic decline, as young people leave traditional fishing towns for work.

This is why Greenpeace lauded the Conservative Party's manifesto commitment on precisely this issue:

"We will support our fishing and coastal communities," the manifesto stated. "We will defend our hard-won Common Fisheries Policy reforms... and rebalance the UK's inland water quotas to smaller, specific locally-based fishing communities."

But the government simply hasn't followed through.

Greenpeace is arguing that the government's failure to implement Article 17 of the reformed CFP - which insists that decisions on quota allocation must factor in environmental, economic and social criteria - has meant that small-scale fishers and coastal communities simply aren't benefitting in the way the legislation envisaged. In fact they're barely seeing any benefits at all.

By continuing to allocate huge fishing quota to industrial boats, while leaving only the crumbs for our low-impact fleet, the UK government is continuing a business-as-usual approach which will do nothing to safeguard either fish stocks or the livelihoods of fishermen in the UK.

The last 100 days have shown us that the Conservative government is missing a trick.

Rebuilding fishing communities. Maintaining livelihoods and creating new jobs. Encouraging sustainable fishing practices. Replenishing depleted fish stocks. Ensuring the future of Britain's small-scale fishing industry. Reinvigorating coastal economies.

All of this is possible, as shown for example by the New Economics Foundation in its Blue New Deal project, through an increased allocation of fishing quota to our low-impact fishing fleet.

The government's already committed to it - now it needs to embrace this sea-change, rather than fighting against the tide.

How do you think Britain has changed since 7 May? Join the @HuffPostUK conversation on Twitter with #100DaysOfDave