Quotas putting fishermen's lives and livelihoods on the line
FISHERMAN Dave Cuthbert knows only too well how hard a life at sea can be.
But the seasoned mariner says "the real problems start when you come ashore".
He first went to sea as a teenager and now, almost 50 years later, is battling against a tide of legislation.
"I've been at sea since I was 15 when I went with my father and grandfather.
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"I joined the Navy and worked in the submarine service for 14 years before I left to go fishing; I decided my family needed me at home but ended up spending even more time away.
"I bought a fishing boat with another guy when we left the Navy and I eventually bought him out after a year.
"When we first started net fishing was very much in its infancy – they were not what they are now."
Dave was speaking to The Herald as fisherman across the Westcountry join a campaign to support small fishing boats and target the European Common Fisheries Policy.
'Be a Fisherman's Friend' is a campaign with Greenpeace and the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association (the name referring to the length in metres of inshore vessels), which is chaired by Dave, calling on sustainable fishing methods being rewarded with a greater share of fishing quotas.
"One of the reasons I started fishing was because I wanted the freedom to go to sea when I wanted – not like when I was in the Navy and told I would be going to sea for six weeks – but now that freedom has been taken away by legislation.
"The quota for sole has just gone up from 30kgs a month to 60kgs – at 30kilos no one bothered because its such a low allocation it wasn't worth buying all the kit.
"We were catching our cod allocation in a day – I stayed in for two weeks in January because I had already used my cod allocation.
"It's a real mess because we don't have enough quota to sustain.
"If you look at the last two weeks it's been awful weather, it has been a really bad summer and when we get the days we just can't make it up.
"I'll catch my monthly quota of sole in one day and then what do you do?
"We were fishing five or six days a week but now I'm forced to work just two or three days.
"I could go line fishing but then I'd be catching ling and have to throw it back.
"It is becoming harder for us, there are more barriers, the fuel prices rising, oil costs going up; when I first started my mooring cost me £30 for the year now it's £2,000."
Dave, who has been fishing in Plymouth since 1981, now catches monkfish, ray, spidercrab and lobster in the summer months working mainly with 12inch mesh nets from his boat, Darter.
He said in some areas Plymouth, as a fishing port, has moved forward.
"Plymouth was well below Brixham and Cornwall with the fish markets, but now in my opinion we have one of the best in the country. Now we have around 50 buyers whereas 20 years ago we only had three or four."
Even though the inshore fleet represents a large majority of fishermen they only receive four percent of the overall fishing quota which Dave says is ultimately putting people out of business and forcing them to "take chances" when it comes to their safety.
He added: "With the way things are at the moment small boats are going to go out of business.
"A lot of people are just hanging on, scraping for a living because of the quotas.
"These last three years Plymouth has been full of cod but because of the quotas small boats are being forced to fish 30 miles off shore – being just 12 miles off shore in a small boat is not where you want to be but that is all some of us are left with.
"More and more people are fishing single handed because of the loss but there is no substitute for a second pair of hands when things go wrong.
"People are being forced to take chances and inevitably that will lead to lives being lost.
"All the time the quotas are stacked against us. It's about getting the balance."
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