The issue with the quota system


The Cornish fishing industry forms an integral part of Cornwall’s cultural, economic and social fabric. It directly employs approximately 2200 people at sea and on shore (Data based on Marine Management Organization statistics for numbers of fishermen and SWRDA/EKOS consultants multiplier of 2.74 shore based jobs to every one fisherman).

The estimated total value of the seafood sector is in the region of 100m (South West Regional Development agency 2002), but importantly it also provides vital support to Cornwall’s £1.8bn Cornish tourism industry (see for more information).


In 1983 as part of the European Union (EU) Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) a system of allocating Total Allowable Catches (TACs) to each EU member state was introduced, as a means of conserving fish stocks and sharing access to EU fisheries resources between member states.

The management of each country’s share of TAC (or quota) is decided at member state level. Within the UK the quota management system has evolved from one where quotas were effectively community / state owned to one of privately owned individual quota rights (i.e. privatisation of a state resource) with each vessel owner holding a share of the quota know as a Fixed Quota Allocation (FQA) unit. The number of shares of FQAs in the system remains the same but the quantity of quota derived from each share on an annual basis can go up or down depending on whether the fish stock in question is increasing or decreasing.


As fishermen retire or otherwise exit the industry quotas are sold and increasingly the highest bidders are larger companies outside Cornwall.

This trend reduces the availability of quota left to the existing Cornish fleet and this makes it almost impossible for any new entrants to join the industry. If left un-checked all of Cornwall’s quota could be owned outside Cornwall and the fish caught using these quotas could be landed anywhere, thus depriving the onshore sector of Cornwall’s seafood industry of the fish they need to process.

Taken to its logical conclusion Cornwall – a county, surrounded by sea and abundant fish stocks could be left without quota for Cornish fishermen to catch these fish. This scenario may sound exaggerated but is exactly what has happened in Iceland, where many years of vertical and horizontal integration within the industry has left large numbers of fishing communities without quota and therefore without a fleet, with poor employment opportunities in the surrounding economic hinterland the consequence has been the socio-economic failure of many such communities.

Since 2005 £4 million Cornish linked fish quota has been lost from the county due to purchases by larger companies outside of Cornwall (data from Cornwall Development Company quota study for Cornwall and Isles of Silly Local Enterprise Partnership).

Access to fishing quota has become the linchpin factor in entering or growing the industry and is fundamental to the supply chain it supports.


If quota consolidation and leaving local communities is left unresolved, their are two distinct problems moving forward:

  1. Young fishermen trying to enter the fishing industry are now finding it almost impossible to compete in the quota market due to rapid quota price inflation. Without young fishermen the Cornish industry has no future.
  2. Established Cornish fishing businesses are unable to modernise or grow as they are constricted due to lack of access to quota.

If this trend is allowed to continue without intervention it is believed that Cornish fishing industry could collapse by around 2020.


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