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.

 

Restore Britains Fish

It is vital that the opportunities Brexit offers for our fisheries are exploited to the full. In my last piece, I pointed out that we should avoid any attempt to create a shadow Common Fisheries Policy. With the treaties no longer applying once the Article 50 negotiations are concluded, the Regulations which govern EU fishing policy will therefore cease to apply as well. This means that fisheries reverts to national control. In other words, the other EU countries will have no quota whatsoever unless we offer it to them.

In this article, I want to address another important issue. It is vital that we adopt the best practises from those countries who control their own fishing. Professor Philip Booth of the Institute or Economic Affairs recently produced a paper advocating the Icelandic model of fisheries management. I would strongly advise against such a policy. There is a much better model for us to emulate which is closer to home – the Faroese. Advocates of the Icelandic model, like Professor Booth fail understand the complexities of a mixed fishery in the relatively shallow water around the UK. Our fisheries are unique. Iceland’s waters do not contain as many different species as ours. Only the waters around the Faroe Islands, which share the effect of the Gulf Stream with us, are compatible.

Another reason for avoiding the Icelandic Model is that, like the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, it operates a quota system of weight per species per vessel. Norway is similar. By contrast, the Faroese system determines allocation by the number of days at sea. This is a much better system for a number of reasons which I will set out below.

1). The problem of discarding marketable species.

Discarding, whether at sea or to landfill, is immoral. However, with the Icelandic system, unless you can give every vessel a proportion of quota for every species, which is impossible, there will be discarding in one form or another. Even if you could come up with a complete quota system for every vessel and every species, inevitably one quota will run out before others. Of course, officialdom will try to devise ever more complicated ways to prevent discarding, but it is like a dog chasing its tail. It is unworkable.

By contrast, with the Faroese system, there is nothing to discard apart from a few undersized fish. Everything is sold and marketed

2) The effects on Fishermen’s attitudes.

In Iceland as much as the EU, whatever the authorities do to stop discarding, it is impossible in a quota-based system, even though it can appear solved on paper. In a mixed fishery, there is no way to avoid hauling up the wrong species for which a vessel may have no quota or have used it up. What do you do ? There are three choices, all unsatisfactory.

i) Keep them and sell them illegally.

ii) open the cod-end and let them go dead and dying back into the sea.

iii) Land them and incur a cost

A quota system puts pressure on fishermen to cheat if they are to survive.

Under the Faroese “Days at sea” system, everything you catch can be landed to be sold without fear of prosecution.

3) The need to report the catch

Fishermen play a key part in building up scientific data. They are required to report how many of each species they catch and where they were fishing when they caught them.

The quota system, which encourages cheating and discards, will inevitably result in falsified scientific data. After all, if you end up catching species for which you have no quota, it is human nature only to record to fish which you are entitled to catch. Likewise, if you catch a species that you have quota for, but caught them in an area you are not allowed. you will steam to the area where you are allowed and say you caught them there, which screws up scientific data.

Faroese fishermen, by contrast, have no fear of criminalisation. They have no reason to be dishonest and therefore record true data.

4) Fishing effort.

As was noted under 1) above, with a quota system, a given vessel will inevitably use up its quota for one species quicker than for others. In a mixed fishery, this means that when your quota for one or more species has been used up, a percentage of your catch cannot be sold – at least legally. This means lower profitability and more fishing time, along with increased pressure on fishing grounds.

A “days at sea” system means that you can fish without looking over your shoulder. There is one downside. The limit on the amount of time spent at sea means that fishing off the harbour entrance needs to be discouraged. However, with this caveat, the “days at sea” system is much more efficient as overall actual fishing time is reduced compared with the quota system.

5) Relationships between fishermen, scientists and fishery officers.

A quota system results in constant battles and lack of trust. Co-operations between the different groups is minimal as everyone is trying to outwit everyone else. By contrast, all three groups can work in harmony under a “days at sea” system.

6) Individual fishermen’s ability.

If fishermen are given a set allocation of weight per species, it gives little incentive to be innovative, progressive, or to improve. The “days at sea” system gives far more scope for fishermen to excel, benefitting from their own endeavours and maximising profit.

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Given the overwhelmingly advantages of the “days at sea” system, let us now have a closer look at how the Faroese make it work.

  • The harvesting licence is an operating licence issued to an individual vessel. The fishing licence specifies the details of fishing activities (catch and geographical area limitations) in which the vessel is permitted to participate, as well as gear requirements, requirements for reporting of catch data and information on landings or transshipments.
  • All vessels larger than 15 GT must maintain a daily log of their activities in an authorised catch logbook which is issued for this purpose, recording data for each set or haul and they must also have functioning satellite vessel monitoring systems (VMS) in both national and international waters.
  • We are constantly being told that because of straddling stocks, an independent UK must run a parallel system to the EU, The tiny Faroe Islands, however, has no problem in deciding what is best for its own fishermen and those who are allowed to fish in its waters. Faroese fisheries in other zones and in international waters have long been an important part of total Faroese fisheries catches, both in terms of total tonnage and economic value.
  • Faroese fishermen have a long tradition of fishing in foreign and international waters. The Faroe Islands have reciprocal fisheries agreements with neighbouring countries in the North Atlantic region – the European Union, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Greenland. These involve the exchange of fishing opportunities, including offering foreign vessels quotas and access to the Faroes’ zone in exchange for equal fishing opportunities for the Faroese fleet in their zones. These agreements provide Faroese fishing vessels with the scope and flexibility they need.
  • A number of fish stocks of great importance for the Faroese fishing fleet can therefore be fished both in the Faroese fisheries zone and in the zones of other countries and international waters. Managing and conserving these fish stocks is therefore a shared responsibility requiring close international cooperation between all relevant nations in the region.

The Faroe Islands have no resources other than the marine resources, yet they, a tiny nation of only 50,000 people, have been brave enough to introduce one of the most successful fisheries management systems currently in operation. Will we have the courage to break out of the quota mindset and follow their example?