Tom Hay

British fishing policy since 1973 has been determined by the political imperative of European integration. The objective is to create an EU fishing fleet catching EU fish in EU waters under an EU permit system controlled from Brussels.

UK fishermen have paid a huge price for the EU élite’s dream of European political union. Indeed, nothing – not even the conservation of fish stocks – has been allowed to stand in the way of achieving that objective.

The British fishing industry has therefore being intentionally and systematically destroyed by the command of Brussels, through the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), aided and abetted by successive UK governments. To conceal the real issue and say that the policy is driven by  conservation issues is a contemptible lie. But lies are the rule rather than the exception when dealing with Brussels on this issue.

It took until 17th December 1997 for the appalling treatment of our fishermen finally to be aired publicly in the House of Commons. Christopher Gill, Conservative Member of Parliament for Ludlow, said: “For 25 years, the House of Commons and the people of Britain, not least the fishermen, have been fed a diet of half-truths, deceptions and downright lies”. He was absolutely right. The supporters of this pernicious plot in desperation to conceal their intentions, parrot the sickening nonsense that there are too many fishermen chasing too few fish. This is another lie, and nothing more than a cynical front to justify drastic reductions in the British fleet to create room for the free access of other Member States’ fishermen, particularly Spain, to the only commodity in the European Union regarded as a common resource.

Furthermore what they don’t tell us is the fact that 50% of the British share of European Union quota allocated in 1983 is now in the hands of Dutch and Spanish flag ships. So how can there be too many British fishing vessels chasing too few fish within the British sector of Community waters which contains three-quarters of the fish within “EU waters”?

The statistics speak for themselves. In the decade from 1995 to 2005, the number of British vessels fell from 8.073 to 6.716 while the number of fishermen fell from 19,044 to 12,647 – a decline of over one third.  The provisional figures for 2015 are 6.187 vessels and 12,107 fishermen. The effects of this decline can be seen in places like Peterhead – once a premier fishing port but now a run-down town with boarded up shops and only around one tenth of the white-fish vessels of former times. It is a similar scene in many once-prosperous UK coastal towns.

It is hardly surprising that one of the most notable events during the 2016 referendum campaign involved fishermen. The so-called “Battle of the Thames”, on Wednesday, June 15th, saw the former rock star Bob Geldof make a complete fool of himself in the face of a dignified and well-organised protest against the CFP, by a flotilla of fishing vessels from several different ports in England and Scotland. Brexit offers us a chance to take back control of our own waters and revitalise our coastal communities after over 40 years of EU mismanagement.

In our booklet Seizing the Moment, John Ashworth sets out a blueprint for a successful post-Brexit fishing policy, based on best practise elsewhere. He points out that while Iceland and Norway manage their own fishing industry, they have followed the EU in using a quota system. This means that when a fishing boat has caught all its annual allowance of a given species, even though it may have some allowance of other species, if it catches any further fish of the species for which it has no more quota, the fish must either be landed illicitly or dumped dead back into the sea. Discarding has long been recognised as one of the worst features of the CFP and it has been a particularly severe problem for UK fishermen because of the mixed nature of the species in the waters around our coast.

John proposes that we follow the example of the Faeroe Islands, who manage their fishing on a “days at sea” basis, which works as follows:-

  • 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 trans-shipments.
  • 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, even though fish are constantly swimming in and out of Faroese waters.
  • 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.

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 resist the pressures to introduce a quota system. Instead, they have brought in one of the most successful fisheries management systems currently in operation anywhere in the world.

The pressures to maintain a quota system come from vested interest. In the UK, fishing quotas acquired a marketable value, meaning that you could sell or lease your quota, which meant that big business can make a lot of money without actually catching any fish – by leasing quota to fishermen. Given the failings of any form of quota system, as explained above, it would be an opportunity wasted if the Government caved in to pressures to keep a quota system and passed over the opportunity to revitalise our fishing ports by adopting a better system which would encourage a renaissance of small family-owned fishing businesses, such as forms the backbone of the fishing industry in the Faeroe Islands.

The government must also resist pressures from the EU to allow it some say in the management of UK waters. Brexit must mean Brexit for our fishermen, with the waters from the shoreline right out to the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)* returned to national control.

Michael Gove, who currently holds the fisheries brief, got off to a promising start by repealing the 1964 London Convention, which pre-dated our joining the European project and which allowed fishing vessels from certain EU member states to fish on our waters. In addition, the Prime Minister, when pressed by MPs Kate Hoey and Jim Shannon, confirmed in Parliament on 20th October 2017 that full control of the full EEZ is planned upon Brexit. The Campaign for an Independent Britain intend to do everything it can to support Fishing for Leave in its lobbying of Parliament to ensure that the opportunities Brexit provides for our fishermen will not be squandered. In view of the appalling treatment of our fishermen since 1973, the least our Parliament can do is to atone for its past betrayals and seize the opportunity which Brexit provides. As John Ashworth has said, “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.” Fishing, in other words, could be one of the greatest Brexit success stories of all.

*200 nautical miles from the coats or the median point where the sea is less than 400 nautical miles wide)


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