Fisheries part 7- Historic rights

Thanks to our membership of the European Union, there are now no “British waters”. Whereas independent countries have control of an area which stretches out 200 nautical miles from the low water shore line (or to the median point when the distance between two countries is less than 400 nautical miles), from 1973 onwards, we surrendered the right to have any national waters at all, so the waters round our coast are EU waters and will be so until we regain our independence.

Supporters of the Common Fisheries Policy make the point that fish know no boundaries, so any stock that moves across a boundary belongs to both sides. They therefore imply that the UK should remain within the CFP and not reinstate national control, or at least run a parallel system. This is a very devious argument as no one in the Faroe Islands, Iceland or Norway – whose waters all border what are currently EU waters – ever suggests that they should somehow surrender control of their waters because of fish migration. Independent sovereign nations tackle issues relating to straddling stocks using agreed international law.

CFP supporters also raise the subject of historic rights. These historic rights pre-date our membership of the EEC/EU, and are sub-divided into rights within the 6 to 12 nautical mile zone and the 12 to 200 nautical mile/median line zone. The first agreement on these rights, which covers the 6 to 12 mile zone, was the 1964 London Convention which gave France 15, West Germany 6, Belgium 5, Holland 3 and Ireland 2 geographical areas within the UK 6 to 12 nautical mile limit where they could fish. In return, the UK obtained similar rights to fish in two Irish, one French, one West German and one Dutch area within the 6-12 nautical mile zones belonging to these countries.

This was not a fair deal and even at the time, there was much debate as to whether France really qualified for such rights. In theory, the agreement was an attempt to secure a legal arrangement for fishing vessels who had regularly fished in a particular area between 1st January, 1953 and 31st December 1962. In practise, other forces were at work.

The London Convention needs to be understood in the context of the UK’s attempts to join the EEC, as it then was. Our first application was made as far back as 1961. France’s General de Gaulle vetoed this application in 1963 and was to do so again in 1967. While it cannot be proven, it is quite possible that even in the 1960s, our politicians were prepared to surrender a resource that belongs to the people of these islands as a sweetener to EU membership. This does seem the most plausible explanation for French fishermen being given such extensive access to our waters with little or nothing being given in return.

The net result of these arrangements was that small fishermen – and therefore smaller coastal communities – were particularly disadvantaged, since they tend to fish closer to the coast than larger vessels. Thanks to the desire of the Government for us to join the EU, they suddenly found themselves in competition with larger vessels from other countries without even having been consulted.

Under Article 15 of the Convention the agreement can be denounced by any contracting party after 20 years after coming into force, which did not happen until 1966. By 1986, we had joined the EEC, so this did not matter. EEC Regulations had superseded the Convention. If we were remaining within the EU (and thus within the CFP), it would still not be an issue, but with independence looming, this Article will acquire considerable importance.  Article 3 of the Convention is also important as if granted rights to specific fishing vessels operating at that time.

The reason for these articles being so important is that once we leave the EU, this CFP Regulation ceases to apply and earlier legislation, including the 1964 Convention, will regain its force. However, there is no legal obligation for Parliament to uphold these rights, In particular, given that the Convention took place over 50 years ago and unlike the current CFP legislation is vessel-specific, it is well-nigh impossible that any fishing boats covered by the legislation will still be in commercial use when we leave the EU.

The current CFP Regulation includes the derogation which the UK has had to renew every 10 years which restricts access by foreign vessels to the waters up to 12 nautical miles from the coast, although we have had to grant access to vessels from other member states that have acquired historical fishing rights in areas between six and twelve nautical miles from the UK coast. These historical rights are, in fact, those granted by the 1964 Convention and which, as was noted, unfairly favours France. Indeed, it does not make provision for any fishing in our waters by boats from countries which are now EU member states but which were not included in the 1964 agreement.

For this reason alone, Parliament needs to exercise its right to terminate the 1964 agreement as well as repealing the CFP legislation. We obviously will need to allow a limited degree of access for EU vessels into our waters upon independence, but the existing historic rights agreements are not suitable, especially as they are vessel-specific. Supporters of the CFP are therefore attempting to muddy the waters and in the process hindering the development of  a fisheries policy which would work in the UK’s best interests.

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  1. Gordon WebsterReply

    The first duty is to recover fully our Laws and Sovereignty, then we can discuss trade and treaties with neighbouring countries. With 75% of our Fleet Decommissioned. on Brussels Orders, while French and Spanish Fleets have been built up, paid for by Brussels. it will take a long time to regain the knowledge and skills needed for Fishing. For some time now fishermen have been imported to crew boats, because the family business of father to son that once was Deep Sea Fishing has gone, along with our Fishing Grounds. The confidence and skills cannot be rebuilt until we take back control of our Fishing Grounds.

  2. David LonsdaleReply

    Dear John,
    I have never had the chance to thank you for your efforts on behalf of independence and particularly for your efforts on behalf of the fishermen, going all the way back to ‘Save Britain’s Fish’. I can only imagine the elation you felt when you saw that first result from Newcastle followed by the devastating result from Sunderland. After Sunderland I phoned my friends to tell them we had won.

    I am not involved in the fishing industry but, like a lot of British people, I have always been angry at the injustice suffered by our fishing communities. As a nation we have an affinity for the sea, given that so much of our history has been played out at sea, so the return of our seas hits an emotional chord with many of us. Indeed, when the Scots regain control of their waters, the emotional attachment they will feel to the sea around their coast will almost certainly tip the balance against their wish to remain in the EU.

    Heartfelt thanks and best wishes

    David Lonsdale

  3. John AshworthReply

    Thank you both for your comments, you are spot on Gordon, yes we have lost a whole generation of youngsters and broken many family ties. It is going to take time.
    I must confess David on polling day I went to bed as usual, got up as I do at 5am to take my medication, saw the result, blow the medication, a tot of rum in my tea. I was reasonably confident, because going to London every month, I take the Sunderland train, and talk to as many as possible, it was always around 65/35 leave. A gang of lads were putting our electric overhead cables where I live, underground. Everyone of them said, never voted in my life, but voting leave. Then we had the Thames battle with Geldof. The support for leave was incredible. The final act that sent me to bed as normal was a colleague texted me around 8.30pm that day from west Midlands “opinion polls wrong – we are going to win – 70/30 here.”
    What a feeling next morning, never forget that and also when Tower bridge lifted and the fishing boats came through.
    The noise from the “battle of Thames” was so great the Judge closed the Crown court.!!
    There is still lots to do, but we got over the first hurdle 23 June. The ordinary silent folk have spoken.

  4. Lindsay JenkinsReply

    Another outstanding and clear explanation of our fishing grounds by John. I hope that Mrs May does not cave in on our 200 mile limit,though that must be the fear.

    We have had to break up our fishing boats on the seashore and fishermen have had to find other jobs, but if the resource is reclaimed and it is profitable to fish I should be surprised if large numbers did not take to the sea again and in pretty short order.

  5. John AshworthReply

    There is a massive investment presently underway Lindsay for new vessels, mainly based on “Brexit means Brexit” – it is scary.
    If the British resource is continued to be given away, I shudder what will happen.

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