By Phil Scullion
Fishermen's livelihoods are at risk from "slipper skippers" and organisations selling fishing quota as a commodity, MPs warned today.
An inquiry by the environment, food and rural affairs committee looked at the system for managing and allocating quota to the English fishing fleet.
The committee called for urgent changes and put pressure on the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to justify its position in not disclosing who holds quota in England.
Anna McIntosh, chair of the environment, food and rural affairs committee, said: "Quota was described to us as the 'lifeblood' of the fishing industry. We were shocked to discover that Defra does not currently disclose who holds quota in England.
"This means that we don't know how much fishing quota may be held by 'slipper skippers' or organisations who have little or no connection to the fishing industry and who merely trade it as a commodity."
However Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, disagreed that "slipper skippers" were the biggest issue.
"The committee has gone off at a tangent and they're not really addressing the core issues i.e. that there's not enough quota," he told politics.co.uk.
"They're focussing on slipper skippers and whilst there are skippers that fall into that category most quota is attached to vessels and if not it is a temporary arrangement.
"For instance if somebody is building a new boat they want to park their quota and let others use it for rental until they're ready. I don't see that there is a big bogeyman there.
"The major issue is the problems faced by the under-ten metre fleet."
Providing opportunities to get fishing quota for the under-ten metre fleet was a particular concern for the committee. This fleet represents the fishing communities which are most vulnerable under the current system.
Mr Deas added: "The over-tens operate on the basis of producer organisations which have quota management rights and that gives them a lot more flexibility to trade, providing their members with quota throughout the year.
"The government's suggestion is that the under-tens should be given the option to move in that direction and we agree.
"However there are anxieties when you open quota to trade and it is necessary to have various safeguards in place."
Richard Benyon, fisheries minister, was broadly supportive of the need to change the current system.
"The way fishing quotas are managed needs an overhaul and I've proposed radical reforms to make the system simpler, giving fishermen more say and fishing communities the opportunity to support their local fleet," he said.
"The industry needs more freedom to fish so that all fishermen have the opportunity to thrive. I'm determined to secure a sustainable, long-term future for our fishermen."