SNP confusion over fishing policy

The roots of the SNP lie in the fishing communities of the North East of Scotland. The recent desire for Scottish independence, in other words, was borne out of a desire to regain national control over fisheries, which by then were under control of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

Now, of course, the SNP seems hell-bent on securing a further referendum on independence in order to rejoin the EU after Brexit. That, however, would mean rejoining the Common Fisheries Policy – and on even more disadvantageous terms than the present arrangements.

So what are we to make of those SNP MPs who have signed a pledge that would protect fishermen by, in effect, keeping Scotland out of the EU?

Signatories include Mike Weir, the party’s chief whip, and Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford. The pledge could not be more specific:- “We must avoid any policy, practice, regulation or treaty which could return us to the Common Fisheries Policy and the enforced giveaway of almost two-thirds of our fish stocks.” If this doesn’t mean staying out of the EU after Brexit, what does it mean?

True, the Conservatives, under Michael Howard, considered repatriating UK fisheries policy without leaving the EU, using the so-called “notwithstanding” clause which allowed the Westminster Parliament to enact legislation “any provisions of the European Communities Act notwithstanding” – in other words, to override the EU. Would Scotland, however, newly back into the EU fold, wish to embark on such a confrontational act, even assuming the Scottish Parliament actually possessed similar powers?

While Dr Whiteford insisted that the party’s policy “has always been consistent” in its opposition to CFP, the charges of hypocrisy levelled by Murdo Fraser, a Scottish Conservative MEP and fellow-signatory, are not without foundation. Ultimately, the SNP has a choice. Does it want to seize the opportunities provided by Brexit to rebuild the Scottish fishing industry or does it want to complete the work begun by Edward Heath in wrecking Scotland’s coastal communities completely by dragging the country back into the EU and thus the Common Fisheries Policy it was formed to oppose? It cannot do both.

Photo by stusmith_uk

Could fisheries prick the SNP’s bubble in Scotland?

The roots of the SNP lie in the coastal communities, especially the fishing communities that in the 1960s were safe Conservative seats. It was Edward Heath’s surrender of our fishing industry which  provided the impetus for SNP’s subsequent growth. Alex Salmond, the previous leader of the SNP, once put forward a private members Bill to take back control of UK fishing grounds of 200 nautical miles/median line zone during his first stint as a Westminster MP.

How times have changed! Power has gone to the SNP’s head and now they do not want to be in an union with the UK but want Scotland to be part of the Union of the EU.

But what would happen if, following Brexit, Scotland voted for independence and then re-joined the EU? The membership terms are unequivocal: Scotland would have to hand back her Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to the EU on the basis of equal access to a common resource without discrimination, and not increasing fishing effort.

Furthermore, the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy state that EU fishing capacity must be balanced to EU marine resource, and with the loss to the EU of the UK’s EEZ, even though Scotland would have its own EEZ, the loss of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish EEZs would result in the EU having to reduce its overall fishing capacity, but that reduced number of vessels would have to share in that reduced capacity – including Scotland’s EEZ.

So if the SNP were to take an independent Scotland back into the EU, it would result in a further decline in the Scottish fleet, finishing off the already devastated coastal communities that originally helped to create the SNP.

It does not end there. The territorial waters of 12 nautical miles come back to the coastal state through a transitional derogation which expires on 31st. December 2022 and would have to be renewed. With the rest of the UK out of the EU and our Accession treaty of 1972 (which was the main reason for the 12 mile derogation) now confined to history, why would the EU wish to offer a fresh derogation covering Scottish waters only? In other words, Scotland could find herself with the EU vessels fishing up to her beaches.

The SNP will huff and puff over this, saying they will negotiate, but there is no way out. These are the rules of EU membership. If, therefore, the SNP is so desperate to rejoin the EU, it would be at the cost of destroying the party’s roots.

The Conservatives, who are currently looking to become the main challengers to the SNP north of the border, would benefit immensely from including a clear fishing policy on the lines we have proposed in their manifesto. Who knows, it may enable them to recapture those seats they lost in the the 1960s and 1970s and tear the heart out of the SNP?

Now available: new fisheries booklet “Seizing the moment”

Following on from our earlier booklet by John Ashworth,  The Betrayal of Britain’s Fishing, the Campaign for an Independent Britain is pleased to announce that a further booklet on the subject of fisheries is now available. Seizing the Moment, also written by John, evaluates the options for UK fisheries following Brexit and proposes a policy radically different from the EU’s failed Common Fisheries Policy which will rejuvenate our fishing industry and coastal communities.

It is available to download as a pdf here (cover) and here (main text)

To order hard copies, please contact admin@campaignforanindependentbritain.org.uk

A template letter for writing to your MP about fishing

Britain’s Maritime Resources & the Great Repeal Bill

You may like to use all or part of our Chairman’s letter to his MP as a template if you wish to write to your own MP expressing your concern that the UK does not end up with a Common Fisheries Policy Mark 2 and thus betray our fishermen a second time. We also need to renounce the 1964 London Convention, so that other countries do not acquire rights to fish in our waters. 

Dear……           

I write as a constituent as well as on behalf of concerned members of CIB and friends in the fishing industry. The surrender of our seas as a “common resource” to the EU was a particularly shameful act, as HMG was fully aware that the then EEC had no legal basis for the Common Fisheries Policy which it introduced into our negotiations to join at the last minute. There is now opportunity for a root and branch rectification of this disastrous decision.

* By international law all living marine species within the  200 nautical mile/median line zone belongs to the coastal state.

* A British Act of Parliament (Fishery Limits 1976 Act) established our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of  200 nautical miles/median from our coast.

* Under the  term of the European Communities Act 1972, this solely national resource was shared with every other EU member state.

* Our friends in the fishing industry advise us of the following figures.

UK catches in UK waters amount to 461,047 tonnes value  £593,600,000

UK catches in EU waters  amount to   88,126 tonnes value  £102,136,000

EU  catches in UK waters amount to  674,601 tonnes value £711,224,000

EU catches in  EU waters  amount to 568,575  tonnes value £777,081,000

* Repealing the ECA 1972 and invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty reverts control of the British EEZ from Brussels to Westminster Control, returning to the Fishery Limits Act 1976 and the London Fishery Convention of 1964.

* In the London Fishery Convention of 1964, the UK gave mainly  to France and four other countries rights to fish within our 6 -12 mile territorial limit zone. From 1986 the UK can renounce this agreement by giving two years notice. We urge that this should be done at the same time as invoking Article 50, so there is no overlap time.

* From the Brexit White Paper

To provide legal certainty over our exit from the EU, we will introduce the Great Repeal Bill to remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book and convert  the “acquis”- the body of existing EU law into domestic law. This means that, wherever practical and appropriate, the same rules and laws will apply on the day after we leave the EU as they did before.

* The fisheries acquis includes the main fisheries regulation 1380/2013, which establishes who  catches what, where and how much in UK waters. So the figures quoted above would become British Fishing Policy.

* It seems incredible that HMG appears to have decided to run a policy based on regulation 1380/2013 so that EU vessels will continue to plunder 59% of the British people’s resource.

* HMG has made much of not being “half in and half out” of the EU and characterised the EEA/EFTA as that sort of arrangement. Yet Norway and Iceland, which are in EEA/EFTA, exercise whole and sole control over their own national fisheries. As with agriculture, they make their own arrangements.

* We urge that the UK’s arrangements should be no less sovereign over our own EEZ and territorial waters.

* We also believe that the whole of the existing CFP quota regime is unfit for purpose and should be scrapped.  Our expert colleagues in Fishing for Leave have prepared proposals for  control by permitted days at sea, as currently used in the Faeroe Islands. This  is far more practicable and removes the incentive to cheat. It can provide a more effective system with local ecological controls for the very different fishing grounds in our waters. Fishing rights should not be individual  property but remain under public control, inalienably for the nation.

* We also urge that immediate preparations should be made for an adequate force of Royal Navy Fisheries Protection Vessels, which could also provide a platform for HM Customs and Excise and Immigration Control purposes.

Yours sincerely,

Photo by Oldmaison

Fisheries Part 10 – the policy priorities for an independent UK

A resource such as the marine life – fish, shellfish, and mammals in the 200 nautical mile/median line zone – belongs to the UK, not to Westminster parliamentarians. They are, however, responsible for how it is administered. Furthermore, fishermen are not the owners either, but custodians and what is more, this national resource belongs to everyone, people who live inland as much as those who live on the coast.

Parliament has not been a good administrator of this resource. Firstly, since 1973, it has been progressively given away and secondly, it placed a monetary value on what we were given back. Neither of these things should have happened.

Brexit provides an opportunity for our present Westminster Parliament to make amends for their predecessors’ failings and look after our nation’s resource properly. Incidentally, this means among other things that MPs must not devolve the 12 to 200 nautical mile zone out to the Scottish Parliament, as their First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon wants to give it away again, thus repeating the same mistakes as the last 44 years.

What should be the guiding principles for shaping a fisheries policy for an independent UK? In order of importance, I think they should be:-

Social: A nation’s resource should be a benefit for ordinary people. Currently, the marine environment only benefits a few select individuals. Fish prices are too high, but without a radical re-think on fisheries policy, no guarantee can be given that market forces will bring prices down. On the other hand, ending the quota system and ensuring that different types of fishing can take place could facilitate the return of small family fishing businesses, which would not only rejuvenate coastal communities but could help bring prices down.

Environmental: An environment that is well-managed is essential for a long-term rejuvenation of the fishing industry. This, of course, goes hand-in-hand with the social concerns mentioned above. Conservation issues need not be at odds with the need of small businesses to earn a living. Sometimes areas do need to be closed for fishing for a short term, for instance when juvenile fish are abundant. Also, consideration needs to be given to fish-eating animals such as seals who are perfectly entitled to compete with fishermen for fish stocks, but whose numbers need to be monitored.

Economic: The above two principles, if adhered to, will being economic benefits which will not be concentrated in the hands of a few powerful people. By contrast, putting the principle of maximum financial gain first – especially if accompanied by a free-for-all mentality – would be very short-termist as it would encourage overfishing and thus not be sustainable.

On 17th. November 2016 The New Economics Foundation launched its Blue New Deal, a 20-point action plan to revitalise the UK coast, under the heading 160,000 new jobs for Britain’s coasts. Of the 20 points, only 3 points (15 to 17) related to Fisheries and 3 more (18 to 20) to Aquaculture.

This think tank, which claims to develop alternative economic policies with a strong social and environmental flavour, sadly missed the mark in a number of areas.  True, some of these 20 points were correct, such as Point 16, which said, “Smaller boats are the lifeblood of thriving ports – those that are fishing sustainably need to get a larger share of fishing opportunities” but other points betrayed a complete lack of understanding of the potential for a rejuvenation of fisheries in the UK.  For example,

Points 1 to 3 covered “Put local people in control”, but what is the point of this until there is something for them to control?

Points 4 to 6 covered “Plans for coastal change” but how can anything change for our coastal communities unless you also argue for repealing all fisheries legislation relating to the CFP?

Points 7 to 11 covered “Invest(ing) in a coastal transformation”, but in this part of the work, there was no mention of fisheries, which ought to be the leading topic as far as coastal transformation is concerned.

Mind you, think tanks are not alone in their muddled approach to fisheries.  Some briefing papers, issued from the House of Commons on 27th. July 2016 are no better.

The author/s wrote “The implication of Brexit for fisheries are highly uncertain“. Not at all. If the exit procedure as outlined by the Prime Minister on 2nd. October 2016 is followed, there is no uncertainty, it is very clear. They then went on to say that “The implications will depend on future negotiations with the EU and future UK Government policy.” While it is true that the responsibility for negotiation lies with our MPs, the Brexit default of no agreement would give us complete control of our Exclusive Economic Zone. We are in a strong position, so it is up to the EU to negotiate with us.

The report then goes on to list the “Possible implications, based on the views of different stakeholders and evidence from existing non-EU European countries” which may include:

  • The UK obtaining exclusive national fishing rights up to 200 miles from the coast. However, the UK may trade-off some of these rights in order to obtain access to the EU’s sea area or access to the EU market for fisheries products;”

This shows muddled thinking. We don’t need to “obtain” anything. There are no “ifs or buts” about whether the UK has exclusive fishing within its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). On Brexit, it will have. End of story.

  • Impacts on the UK’s ability to negotiate favourable fish quotas for UK fishers with the EU. It is not possible to say whether the UK will be more or less able to obtain satisfactory quotas for fishers;

This is totally the wrong way round. The EU has no rights in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone. To fish in our waters,  the EU has to negotiate with us.

  • The need for a new mechanism to enable the UK to negotiate and agree annual fishing quotas with the EU and other countries;

This is already covered by the third United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Seas (UNCLOS III) .

  • The introduction of a UK fisheries management and enforcement system. This in many respects may mirror the existing arrangements for managing fisheries, albeit with additional resources required;

To mirror the existing arrangements – in other words, a shadow CFP – would be a disaster and unacceptable situation.

  • Restrictions on EU market access for fishery products (depending on the outcome of negotiations) and less influence in discussions on determining EU market rules for fish;

This is a negative attitude. It appears that the author believes that the UK owes the EU some share of our resource.

  • Less certainty around public funding of support for fishing communities or environmental sustainability.

Funding is much less important as an issue than having genuine control

  • Issues related to possible changes to the protection of the marine environment

Considering the appalling performance of the CFP, such a remark is an insult.

In conclusion, these briefing papers miss the one crucial point: – Brexit means the competency over our EEZ comes back to Westminster. The EU has no input into how we manage our EEZ, nor any rights. Our Civil Service needs to understand that Brexit means we are no longer beholden to the EU. As far as fisheries is cocenred, we are now in charge – a situation which the younger generation has not experienced.

Having explained why some current thinking about fisheries is mistaken, this then poses the question as to what should be included in a future fisheries policy to maximise the tremendous potential out there.

Firstly, as we mentioned above, it would bring huge social benefits. A successful fishing industry will include a mixture of small, medium and large vessels. The revival of the small family-run fishing businesses would be without doubt the quickest way to rejuvenate the coastal communities. These would operate in the inshore sector – in other words, within 12 nautical miles of the shoreline.

A thriving port/harbour where small fishing boats come and go on a daily basis, creates an interesting spectacle for tourists. Furthermore, the mixed catch will often find a ready market in local hotels and restaurants.  Although some towns like Hastings in Sussex still retain a fleet of small fishing boats, many other towns which were once home to a small fleet of, say, 10 or 20 fishing boats now have none. Worse still, some coastal communities such as Peterhead whose economy was once dominated by fishing, have become desolate as the principal form of employment has been destroyed. Brexit brings with it the prospect of rejuvenation of such towns and the creation of new jobs. Whole areas will start to improve.

Besides commercial fishing, Brexit also brings better prospects for recreational fishing. Once money begins to flow into a given area, economic recovery will gather pace as it spreads out into other sectors.

Only someone who has fished in the waters around the UK can appreciate the enormous potential out there. Our coastal communities could have a very exciting future, but first, authoritative voices who really understand the sector must rise to the difficult task of convincing those who are in a position to bring about this success story that it really is possible.

Fisheries Part 9:- Repairing the damage requires careful planning

To recap: Some politicians knew right from the start that the CFP amounted to a betrayal of our fishermen

When National Fishery limits were extended from the 3 nautical mile limit to 12 and then 200/median line in the 1960s and 1970s, British boats which formerly fished far away from the UK found themselves squeezed out of their traditional grounds from the Grands Banks, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Russia. The middle water fleet likewise found itself excluded from Faroese waters.

Under normal circumstances, our fishermen would have been compensated for this loss of access by being given exclusive rights to our new UK Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 miles/median line. Instead, however, the Westminster Parliament decided to give the people’s resource away. They blocked that option and instead of supporting our own industry, preferred to let the fishing fleets of other EU member states catch most of the fish in what are our waters. Now, a visit to many fishing ports around the UK coast will reveal all too clearly the devastation and decline this policy has caused.

John Silkin, the Labour Fisheries Minister did all he could in 1977-8 to try and obtain a British exclusive 50 nautical mile zone, but as he stated in a House of Commons statement on 19th. January 1978, “There was considerable opposition to my demands on this question on the basis that they were contrary to the Treaty of Accession”.

How often have we heard that? “Go and read the Treaties!” It will be a huge relief when Article 50 is finally invoked, as two years later the EU Treaties will cease to apply to the UK.

Five years later on 25th January 1983, Regulation 170/83 had just come into force, which introduced the percentage share out of all individual species, known in the trade as “Relative Stability”, which the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher hailed a great success. Six days later, however, Peter Walker, the fisheries minister, painted a different picture:- “The reality is that if the United Kingdom, instead of demanding anything like the historic proportion of Europe’s fish that it had caught, demanded a 200-mile limit and 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. of Europe’s fish, that would mean the massive destruction of the fishing industries of most of our friends and partners in western Europe.”

In other words, it was anything but a success for our fishermen, although wonderful news for the fleets of other EU member states.

As has been pointed out before in these articles, the quota system was part of the political integrationist agenda. The commitment to the creation of an United States of Europe was far more important that introducing a fisheries policy built on sensible conservation practise. Each member state was given a quota for each species which the National Governments then distributed among their own fleet.

Why, however, did our government allow our allocation to gain a monetary value? Goodness knows, unless they knew that such action would end up with the allocated resource coming into the hands of a favoured few – including foreign hands – and thus getting rid of British vessels in order to comply with our Treaty obligations.

Non-EU quota based systems are not the answer  

Brexit provides us with an historic opportunity to repair the damage which EU membership has done to our fishing industry. Recently, a number of well-intentioned articles and reports have been published on this subject, written by persons with no sea-going fishing experience. The net result has been a number of proposals which, sadly, are of little if any value.

For instance, knowing that Iceland and Norway are not in the EU and have large fishing fleets, some pieces are proposing that an independent UK uses their fisheries management system as a template. Unfortunately, their assumption that a non-EU country would automatically operate a better fisheries management system has proved misplaced. Both Norway and Iceland operate quota systems and thus their fishing industry has suffered similar social consequences – small family businesses have been forced out of the profession, affecting entire coastal communities.

Statistical and factual confusion

This is not the only mistake in some fisheries proposals. The Adam Smith Institute made a mistake in its fisheries proposal with the chronology of the introduction to the 200 mile/median point zone.

Statistics is another area which also needs to be handled carefully. Lumping all the sectors of the fishing industry together is confusing, as within a single heading are several different sectors, from small boats operating near the shore to large deep-water trawlers using different methods of fishing.

So, to take the 2015 Eurostat statistics on overall vessel tonnage, Spain is shown as having double the tonnage of both France and ourselves, whereas statistics based on overall engine power of the total fleet shows Spain and ourselves having only 75% the engine power of the French fleet. This is because different vessels of different horsepower are used for different types of fishing.

Confusion can also occur when considering the tonnage of species caught, as you can catch huge numbers of some species which have relatively little value, whereas with some species, there is great value in small tonnage.

The overall tonnage taken, (in thousands of tonnes) per nation in 2015 was:-

Norway 2146

Iceland  1317

Spain 901

UK 701

France  497

Even given the caveat about the different value of different species, these figures show the massive potential out there. The tonnage for an independent UK, free from the fetters of the CFP, should be the same or better than Norway.

Things get even more complicated if one attempts to calculate how many fish the other EU member states take out of the UK zone, because figures of the percentage share amongst the member states per area zone is broken down by species. The UK may catch as many as 90% of the total catch of one individual species in our own EEZ but as little as 10% of another. Realistically, the figure is about 40% overall, which mean that vessels from other EU member states take 60% of what is the British people’s resource. France has admitted up to 70% of its total catch comes from the British EEZ.

No other EU Member State gave away its own resources to the degree that we did.  We cannot continue to do this, but on the other hand, if on Independence Day, we swung to the opposite extreme and allowed no EU vessel in our waters, the consequences would be dramatic and damaging. What is required is a transitional time-limited process. Fortunately, on Independence Day, when the Treaties and Regulations cease to apply, we will revert back to our Fishery Limits 1976 Act, which functions under UNCLOS  111, through article 62

Utilization of the living resources

  1. The coastal State shall promote the objective of optimum utilization of the living resources in the exclusive economic zone without prejudice to article 61.
  2. The coastal State shall determine its capacity to harvest the living resources of the exclusive economic zone. Where the coastal State does not have the capacity to harvest the entire allowable catch, it shall, through agreements or other arrangements and pursuant to the terms, conditions, laws and regulations referred to in paragraph 4, give other States access to the surplus of the allowable catch, having particular regard to the provisions of articles 69 and 70.

This is a way whereby a transfer of operations could be fairly moved across in a time-limited period, with no permanent right of access conceded.

In my final article, I will look at the benefits  and potential of Brexit fisheries, but it must not be forgotten what Theresa May said in her Conference speech on 2nd October: The authority of EU law in Britain will end. This,after all, is what Brexit is about.

We trust that we can take her at her word and that the future of the British people’s resource and the revitalisation of our fishing industry and coastal communities rests in the hands of our elected representatives at Westminster and no one else.