The British fishing industry – the present situation

The British fishing industry faces a worrying future, as it is not clear what will happen post-Brexit. However, even before we leave the EU, next year could see many vessels put out of business, losing the very people we need to rebuild the fleet and infrastructure once we leave the EU.

2018 brings the next stage of the EU’s discard ban into operation, resulting in fishermen having to stop fishing once they have caught the full complement of the species for which they have the least quota – known as the choke species. Some estimate tie-ups could start by the end of February and last for the rest of the calendar year. It doesn’t matter how much quota you have on others species. The rules state that as soon as the species with minimum quota is reached, you and your organization will be forced to lay up.

On top of that, the fisheries plans for Brexit itself are confusing, causing confusion and doubt. The one glimmer of light is that the Secretary of State Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Environment, Agriculture, Fisheries), the Rt. Hon. Michael Gove, whose brief covers three important areas of EU competency, made a flying start after taking this post in June, denouncing the London 1964 Fishery Convention, which will, in due course, keep foreign vessels out of our 6/12 nautical mile zone.

The past week has been encouraging with two oral question to the Prime Minister, and an excellent House of Commons Exit Committee session, (especially the first half), which took place on Wednesday 11th. October. It was good to get clarity from the four witnesses – Sir Stephen Laws, Sir Konrad Schiemann, Dr. Charlotte O’Brien and Professor Richard Ekins.

We in Fishing for Leave have maintained that when Article 50 terminates on 29th. March 2019, and the EU Treaties and Regulations cease to apply to the UK, we are out of the CFP. We then revert back to the 1976 Fishery Limits Act, and International Law – UNCLOS 3. However, from this Committee session came clarity that when the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, becomes an Act, it is this Act we revert back to, the Act that has brought all the EU acquis back into domestic legislation, including fisheries regulation 1380/2013, re-establishing the right for EU vessels to continue taking around 60% of our Nation’s marine resource.

The danger of this Bill comes not from taking on board into domestic legislation those EU Regulations which only operate internally within an individual country but rather those which deal with interfaces between different countries, like the CFP reglations. The witnesses to the committee made it clear that while article 50 takes us out cleanly of the EU, on 29 March 2019,  the EU (Withdrawal) Bill takes us back in with our parliament’s blessing if the repatriation of the aquis is tied to a “transitional deal” as proposed by Mrs May. For fisheries that means we would be back in the CFP, all bar name and we would remain under ECJ control for up to two further years.

The witnesses also expressed surprise that the withdrawal bill appeared not to cover the eventuality of no agreement being reached.

Given the deliberations of the Committee, we can now understand the context of two important oral questions put to the Prime Minister and her answers. The first was by Kate Hoey, on 9th.October 2017

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab)

The European Commission talks continually about the need for Her Majesty’s Government to provide certainty and clarity. Is there not one area in which we could provide that certainty and clarity very plainly, today and in our negotiations? Could we not make clear that in March 2019 we will withdraw from the common fisheries policy, take back all our fisheries, and ensure that our fishing communities actually take back control of who fishes in British waters?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Lady is right to suggest that when we leave the European Union one of the aspects of leaving it will be leaving the common fisheries policy. Of course, we will need to consider the arrangements that we want to put in place here in the United Kingdom for the operation of our coastal waters and the operation of fishing around them.

This does not answer the question regarding when we are going to be leaving the CFP. Will it be on 29th March 2019 as per Article 50? Also, what does Mrs May mean when she talks about our “coastal waters”?All very unsatisfactory.

Further questions were raised on 11th October:-

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

Is it the Prime Minister’s intention that the United Kingdom should remain part of the common fisheries policy during any transitional period after we leave the European Union? [900931]

The Prime Minister

When we leave the European Union, we will be leaving the common fisheries policy. As part of the agreement that we need to enter into for the implementation period, obviously that and other issues will be part of that agreement. But when we leave the European Union, we will leave the common fisheries policy.

This is a very confusing answer; which date are we leaving? By raising the subject of an implementation period it sounds as if it is to be later than the official Brexit date – 29th March 2019. Fishing is going to be part of the withdrawal agreement which means a final withdrawal treaty, which in turn brings in problems.

Then on the same day 11 October another oral question was asked by Mrs Sheryll Murray, the MP for South East Cornwall, as follows:-

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that once we leave the EU we will have total control over our internationally recognised fisheries limits, that fishermen from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England will benefit from any new management regime, and that this will not be bargained away during any negotiations?

Damian Green  (First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office)

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that when we leave the EU we will be fully responsible under international law for controlling UK waters and the sustainable management of our fisheries. Through the negotiations we will of course work to achieve the best possible deal for the UK fishing industry as a whole.

This answer poses the question as to whether our Government understands our obligations under International law. If it did, you wouldn’t be taking about achieving “the best possible deal”. International law is clear; as far as fishing is concerned, it is the EU which has to ask for a deal, not the UK.

It was nine months ago when Fishing for Leave raised the issue of the Great Repeal Bill (now the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill) with the newly-created Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU). We were concerned about the Exit day being moved through domestic legislation. We have said all along it could bring a legal challenge on acquired rights, bogging us down for years, thanks to the Vienna Convention on Treaties. To this day, DExEU is dismissing this out of hand.

To play safe, just as Michael Gove did with the 1964 London Fisheries Convention, it would be a safer bet to exempt all fisheries regulations from the withdrawal bill.

All this may sound confusing and technical, but having spent over 50 years in the fishing Industry, one issue of which I am convinced is that new UK management system will be based on either the Icelandic model or Fishing for Leave’s model – i.e., Quota or effort limitation. If we go down the Icelandic model, our UK coastal communities will not benefit, and I would not like to sell that to the electorate. We are talking about a national resource, where all the people should benefit, not a few.

 

May admits coastal communities will be lost in transition

A press release from Fishing for leave

At PMQs yesterday (Wed 11th Oct.) Theresa May finally let the mask slip when asked a question on whether Britain would still be locked into the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) during a transition.

Before the House of Commons the PM stated that Britain’s fishing industry and coastal communities will once again be bargained as part of the agreement to gain a transition/implementation period.

“As part of the agreement we need to enter into for the implementation period, obviously that (CFP )and other issues will be part of that agreement”.

Fishing for Leaves Alan Hastings raged “It is appalling that the establishment won’t even make a stand on fishing when it is such an “acid test” of whether we’ve taken back control – after being sacrificed to join it looks like Britain’s fishing and coastal communities will be sacrificed on leaving too”.

“It’s sickening that it is not for any benefit but to cravenly gain a transition period that will only leave this country prostrate at the hands of the EU”

Fishing for Leave highlighted that under international law Article 50 confers a clean slate on March 2019 where all EU treaties and law ceases to apply – taking Britain cleanly out the CFP and leaving the country free to make our own laws and deals.

“A transition has been spun as part of a gentle unwinding during leaving – IT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT”

“Legally Britain leaves the EU at the end of the Article 50 process in March 2019. A transition period isn’t part of leaving but part of a future deal with the EU”

“Therefore, a transition is only within the EUs gift to give and on their terms – this puts Britain at the EUs mercy – we will have taken back control in March 2019 only to give it straight back to the EU in a transition deal – its madness”.

This was confirmed by Michael Barnier on the 21st September. That any transition past the Article 50 cut-off date can only happen if the UK effectively re-joins the EU to get it.

”I would like to be very clear: if we are to extend for a limited period the Acquis of the EU, with all its benefits, then logically this would require existing Union regulatory, budgetary, supervisory, judiciary and enforcement instruments and structures to apply

Alan Hastings fumed “Barnier has made it crystal clear – the only way the EU will give a transition is if it is entirely on their terms. Where Britain continues to obey all current and future EU law but has no say or input over them – it’s a worse position than being members – perhaps that’s the point!”

“Consequently, they can demand continuation of the CFP – most worryingly they can alter the rules to cripple and finish what is left of the British fleet so they clear the sea of the British industry”

“What Mrs May and her remain sycophants are doing just now in their desperation to Remain with the EU is prostrating Britain in regulatory purgatory as they hope to keep kicking the can down the road – lost in transition comes to mind”

“They are putting not only the fishing industry but the nation in a grave position at the EUs mercy”.

“Unless the political establishment wants to self-destruct when the public realises what they have done they must take back full control in March 2019”.

The campaign for an Independent Britain would like to point out that, while fully sharing Fishing for Leave’s concerns about Mrs May’s statement, it does not believe that this damaging transitional arrangement is anything more than a figment of her imagination, as we pointed out here.
We would also wish to thank Heather Wheeler MP for her comments on this press release. She said “This is a complete nonsense and wrong. We are giving notice on fishing and we are taking back our fishing limits and quotas.” CIB is seeking further information and clarification from ministers and any replies will be posted in due course.  Mrs Wheeler was a staunch supporter of Leave during the referendum.

 

 

Fishing for Leave welcomes Michael Gove’s statement on discarding

This press release first appeared on the Fishing for Leave website.

It was good to hear Secretary of State Michael Gove at Conservative Conference and a sincere thanks for his kind words to John Ashworth – the unfaltering founder of the fight to free Britain’s fishing from the EU and CFP.

One of the original Brexiteers in the 90s, without John’s encyclopaedic constitutional knowledge of the EU treaties we may have never known nor understood the EU and its implications– many still do not.

Markets and Morals dictate discarding – where fishermen are forced to discard the “wrong” fish to match quotas – must end.

Quotas cause discards. Discarding distorts information on effort and abundance creating inaccurate science. Poor science leads to poor quotas perpetuating a system that only reflect quota limits and talks to itself in a downward spiral.

Banning discards addresses the symptom (discards) not the cause (quotas). ‘Choke species’ will see vessels have to stop fishing on exhausting their lowest quota to avoid any discarding –bankrupting the majority of the fleet and finishing off communities Brexit or not.

Fishing for Leave looks forward to continuing to work with government on the world leading, bespoke British system of refined effort control (days-at-sea) we propose which solves both choke species by ending the cause – quotas.

Allowing vessels to land all catches in exchange for a limit on time at sea – meaning catch less but land all –will provide real-time science and management.

Government must accelerate engagement so this viable alternative is there to replace the CFP. Otherwise, due to lack of alternative, Britain will remain with the disastrous status quo of the CFP, quotas and discards or a ban that will finish the fleet.

The Icelandic approach is the quota system on steroids. It will accelerate the consolidation of the industry, especially as choke species under a quota system and discard ban will push what little fleet is left out, with only a few big operators able to survive.

Such a result would only benefit a few big operators and ‘slipper skippers’ who rent quota. Anyone advocating replicating what has happened in Iceland has a narrow perception of accelerating an “all for one – none for all” system.

Consolidation to a few, as in Iceland, will make it impossible to rejuvenate the industry and communities so everyone – large or small can survive and thrive.

Coastal constituencies that voted for Brexit and Conservative did not do so for an increased dose of the same bad medicine of Quotas in some sort of continuation of the CFP.

Continuing the same bad system in London instead of Brussels is no solution. Especially when there is a viable alternative that is more sustainable, gives accurate science and would allow a £6.3bn industry and communities to be rebuilt as a beacon of Brexit.

The Secretary of State and this government cannot continue the same system on steroids as in Iceland to appease Remainers (who want to stay aligned with the EU) or to appease a few big interests and slipper skippers.

Many of who were happy to stay in the EU and to see the majority of the British Industry thrown to the Wolves so they can take all.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 3:- fisheries shows the need for exemptions

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was designed to ensure that life continues as normal the day we leave the EU.  In an earlier post, we explained the rationale behind this bill. While Labour in particular is concerned about the “repatriated” legislation being tweaked for political ends, a far more serious problem concerns legislation which will need tweaking because of the new status of the UK as an independent sovereign nation outside the EU. Indeed, the degree of tweaking required for some legislation which does not concern merely domestic issues is so great that we believe that it is best that there should be exemptions included in the Great Repeal Bill – in other words, replacement legislation should come into force on Brexit day and the regulation, decision or directive  in question should not be put onto the statute books at all.

Regulation 1380/2013 is the main piece of EU legislation which governs the Common Fisheries Policy. Leaving the EU will free us from this iniquitous, environmentally damaging piece of legislation which has wrought havoc to our fishing industry.  All we have to do is exempt this one single Regulation from the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and our fishermen will be freed from control by Brussels. Even if no agreement on fishing is signed by Brexit day, this would be better than the current set-up. We would find ourselves excluded from EU waters, but the exclusion of EU vessels from our Exclusive Economic Zone (up to 200 nautical miles from the shoreline, or the median point where the sea is less than 400 nautical miles wide) would be more than a compensation.

In other words, unlike customs arrangements, trade in goods and services or mutual recognition of standards, fisheries is one area where we really don’t have to worry if there is no agreement with the EU by 29th March 2019. We would revert to UN guidelines which would allow us to manage our own waters.

So the current plans by the government to include Regulation 1380/2013 make no sense whatsoever – all the more when analysis of the actual document shows that a massive re-write would be needed before it could be incorporated into UK law or else a tremendous muddle would ensue. You only have to go as far as paragraph (2) on the first page before encountering the terms “Union waters” and “Union fishing vessels.” At the moment, these terms refer to the boats and EEZs of all EU28 countries – at least, all those which have a coastline and therefore a maritime fishing industry. On Brexit day, the term will mean something different as phrase containing the word “Union” will refer to EU27 – in other words, not the UK.

Read on to paragraphs (3) and (4) on the same page and they talk about the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy. Unless the government wants us to be in the CFP even though we will be out of the EU, these two paragraphs can be struck through as irrelevant.

Paragraph (5) begins by mentioning “the Union”. Well, we happen to be a signatory to the same UN agreement, so perhaps our Civil Servants can just cross this out and put in “the UK” instead. Sadly, it’s not that simple. Read on a few lines and you come across a reference to a decision by the EU Council. That doesn’t apply to us any more so that needs to be changed.

Given the document is 40 pages long, I won’t bore you with going through the other pages in detail, but the absurdity of repatriating this Regulation must already be apparent. Every reference to “union”, “member states” “Commission” and so on will need alteration. Why bother with a piece of legislation which is so flawed? Scroll through it in its entirety and there are numerous references to quotas. UK fishermen do not want a quota system on independence. Our booklet Seizing the Moment,written by John Ashworth of Fishing for Leave proposes a “days-at-sea” basis, modelled on Faeroese practise, which is far better than any quota system for preventing discards, while at the same time enables a much better management of the environment.

Three further objections to the incorporation of this Regulation into the EU (Withdrawal) Bill should, however, be mentioned. Firstly, the final 12 pages comprise an annex listing the access to coastal waters by different member states. This obviously includes the UK’s territorial waters which the Government indicated it intended to return to UK control by denouncing the 1964 London Convention.  If these pages are included, then the good done by doing this is essentially undone and the government would have broken a promise.

Secondly, this Regulation is the latest of a series of regulations enshrining the UK’s 10-year derogration restricting access to the waters up to 12 nautical miles from the shore, which currently expires on 31st December 2022. If the Regulation is included in UK law featuring any wording implying that restricting access to any part of the waters around the UK is subject to agreement with Brussels, then we have in effect granted the EU a right to continue dictating who may or may not fish in our waters. This is unacceptable.

Finally, if anything resembling Regulation 1380/2013 ends up on the UK statute books after Brexit, even if it has been heavily amended, it will be scrutinised in minute detail by, among others, the French, who will seek to find any opportunity they can to take us to an international court and challenge our decision to repatriate our fishing policy.  Given that so much of this document needs to be deleted or amended to make any sense and that there is plenty of scope for ambiguity creeping in, the threat of a legal challenge adds still further to the reasons for saying that excluding it from the EU (Withdrawal) Bill in its entirety is the only sensible approach to take. Fishing for Leave has the expertise to devise a fishing policy in 18 months – one which will revitalise our coastal communities after years of decline. If even a heavily amended version of this Regulation finds its way onto the UK statute books, it will not be truly Brexit for an industry that has campaigned so long for the return of fisheries to UK control. Given the appalling way in which previous Conservative governments have betrayed our fishermen, this present administration must not be allowed to bungle this great opportunity to right an historic wrong. Thankfully, one Conservative MP has already flagged up the potential problems a bungled fisheries Brexit would cause. We can but hope his colleagues will take heed.

 

Fisheries: One MP talks sense as battle over quotas continues

A week ago today, the subject of fisheries was raised by Craig Mackinley, the Conservative MP for Thanet South, in the debate over the European Union (withdrawal) Bill.

The relevant part of his speech, taken from Hansard, was as follows:-

“I support it {The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill} completely for legislation that is applicable only to the United Kingdom, but when dealing with legislation that involves relationships outside the United Kingdom, such as the common fisheries policy, I have a few concerns, because the body of legislation—the acquis—that is the CFP is made up almost entirely of regulations. The only way we can achieve compatibility is through a legally binding withdrawal agreement, and that in itself brings some problems. First, at this stage, we do not know what that agreement will contain. Indeed, we do not even know if we will be getting an agreement at all, such has been the appalling behaviour, sadly, of our EU partners.

Secondly, taking the common fisheries policy as an example, article 50 takes us out cleanly, so there is no possibility of future legal challenges that we would have to try to avoid. Regulation 1380/2013, which will be brought across by the Bill, will re-establish the common fisheries policy in all but name, possibly paving the way for a legal challenge, perhaps via the Vienna convention on international treaties, through the withdrawal agreement. The evidence of that is the acquis that we have accepted and transposed into UK law, thereby creating a continuation of rights thereon.

I would like to see the proposed fisheries Bill, which is due before us at some stage, and which could solve the problem. We have no idea what that Bill will contain. Will it continue to give away the nation’s wealth that is its fish? Will it continue the disastrous CFP policy of quota allocation, which puts the resource in the hands of a few, and is the cause of the completely immoral discarding of prime fish that we have seen all these years? We simply do not know. Why are we going down this tortuous route when the easiest route would be to exempt the entire fisheries acquis from the withdrawal Bill, and produce a fisheries Bill, coming into force on 30 March 2019, that confirmed what international law bestows on this nation? That is not unusual, because the withdrawal Bill already exempts parts of the charter of fundamental rights.

Fishing is the area in which the British people demand a clean Brexit, and I think they will accept nothing less. Fishing must not be used as part of a trade-off, and availability must not form part of a deal elsewhere. Control of our exclusive economic zone extending to 200 nautical miles or the median line will regenerate our coastal communities, but if we follow current fisheries policy, we will certainly fail to do that. It is quite odd that we commit vast amounts of cash to communities such as mine in Ramsgate, Broadstairs and parts of Margate through the coastal communities fund—I am thankful that we do—but we seem to have no clear commitment to the one thing that could provide great rejuvenation for our coastal communities, which are recognised as having lower rates of employment, and which are in need of restructuring and infrastructure.

On this subject, the electorate are very wary of shenanigans. We cannot afford to create failure, and it is our responsibility to make this a success. I am happy to trust the Government by supporting Second Reading tonight, but I would very much like to hear more about their proposals for restoring one of this nation’s finest treasures—our very positive fishing grounds, which have the potential to benefit our communities and should never have been taken away.”

It is encouraging that at least one MP has spoken so clearly about the key issues as far as fisheries are concerned.  There is much vested interest, particularly among those who have bought quota, to keep the status quo. This, as Mr Mackinley rightly points out, will do no good whatsoever to our coastal communities and especially the smaller family-owned fishing boats which may struggle to survive 2018 if the new discards ban is enforced.

 

Hopefully it’s confusion rather than betrayal

Michael Gove’s comments to Danish fishermen about access to UK waters after Brexit have attracted some adverse criticism. We have not been provided with a full record of his actual words and it is quite likely he has been misquoted. Furthermore, he has only been in the job a few weeks and there is a lot of detail for him to take on board.

The same cannot be said for the Civil Servants of DEFRA, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who should know better, A statement by one of their spokesman is therefore far more of a cause for concern than Mr Gove’s comments in Denmark. The spokesman said:-

“Leaving the EU means we will take back control of our territorial waters. As we have always said, other countries will be able to access our waters – but for the first time in 50 years it will be on our terms and under our control…..We will allocate quotas on the basis of what is scientifically sustainable, making sure we have a healthy marine environment and profitable fishing industry in the UK.”

The fishing industry has always been concerned that the Government will only allow British vessels the exclusive use of the 12 nautical mile zone – in other words, out territorial waters. This is  what the DEFRA statement has indicated and the recent the Conservative manifesto said the same thing. Taking the DEFRA statement at face value, it would appear that arrangements regarding our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covering the area from 12 nautical miles up to 200 nautical miles/median line will continue as at present. This means that EU vessels will continue to take around 59% of the British people’s resource and the failed quota system will continue. Is this really what Mr Gove has in mind?

So why did the department use the word “Territorial”?

This is where confusion is creeping in. This doesn’t apply just to fishing but right across the whole range of Brexit-related issues. The public is stating to get restless and are wondering whether those at the top know what they are doing or else fear that they are deceiving us again. This is unhealthy, and proves once again the importance of detail.

Consequentially, Gove, probably for no fault of his own, will be under pressure now not only to explain his own comments but also the actions of his department. The burden on Gove’s shoulders cannot be exaggerated. The survival of the Government  – and indeed, the Conservative party – could rest in his hands. If the EEZ is traded away, then Brexit isn’t Brexit. DEFRA may state, “it will be on our terms and under our control”, but if the existing quota system of the CFP is used, the expected benefits will not materialise. Life after Brexit has to be a success for our fishing industry, not a continuation of the present story of decline.

The confusion stems directly from the DEFRA statement – “As we have always said, other countries will be able to access our water”. There is nothing wrong with these words as all free and independent fishing nations have reciprocal arrangements with their neighbours. Under international Law, UNCLOS3 article 62(2) states that if you haven’t the fishing capacity to take the resource, the amount you can’t catch can be given to your neighbours. The problem here is the civil servants will have advised Gove that we haven’t the capacity, whereas in reality we have.

The confusion centres around this word “Territorial.” UNCLOS3 has different rules for the territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles from the coastline and the Exclusive Economic Zone reaching out to 200 nautical miles/median line zone.

No one is saying that we should throw all EU vessels out on 30th March 2019, but no permanent rights must be given, only temporary transitional rights on a declining annual basis. What is vital, however, is that we need to know whether DEFRA is making the common mistake of using the term “Territorial waters”  when it actually means EEZ or whether it really does mean that we will only control the 12 nautical mile limit.

If so, it would be a shameful betrayal of our fishermen on a par with Fisheries Minister Peter Walker, who told Parliament in January 1983 – “the reality is that if the UK, instead of demanding anything like the historic proportions of Europe’s fish that it had caught, demanded a 200 mile limit and 50% or 60 % of Europe’s fish, that would mean the destruction of the fishing industries of most of our friends and partners in western Europe”.

Unfortunately the attitude that fishermen in other countries come before our own still prevails in some quarters. Thankfully, in Michael Gove, we have a person who has hit the deck running and is prepared to listen and learn. He has already shown in denouncing the London Convention  that he is someone who can and will take action. Ultimately, it is the job of civil servants to implement, not decide policy, so we can but hope that when Mr Gove really has his feet under the table that there will be a change of tone from DEFRA.

The way his Danish visit has been reported in the press will also underline to him how important it is for his department to issue clear, unambiguous statements, leaving no room for confusion over a very delicate subject.