FFL: Government’s Fisheries Bill deserves a cautious welcome

CIB affiliate member Fishing for Leave gives a cautious welcome to the launch of the Government’s Fisheries Bill, but warns that the serious threat to the fishing industry from Theresa May’s Chequers proposals remains.

The launch of the Government’s Fisheries Bill by DEFRA secretary of state Michael Gove deserves a cautious welcome.

The government’s announcement said:

‘The Fisheries Bill will enable the UK to control who may fish in our waters and on what terms… The Bill also gives the UK the power to implement new deals negotiated with the EU and with other coastal states and manage fisheries more effectively and sustainably in future.’

At its heart the Bill seeks to deliver the following:

  • Controlling access – by ending current automatic rights for EU vessels to fish in UK waters.
  • Setting fishing opportunities – by proposing powers to ensure that the UK can set its own fishing quota and days at sea.
  • Protecting the marine environment – by ensuring fisheries management decisions are taken for the benefit of the whole marine environment

Many who have fought for 25 years to escape the disastrous CFP thought we would never see this day.

We never thought we would see legislation which would allow Britain to take back control of our waters, £6-8bn of our resources, and decide access and management for our own national benefit – as Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands do.

That is hugely welcome, but it is the devil in the detail which we fear. As the government admits, this bill is subject to the wider negotiations.

Negotiations where – disgustingly – Theresa May proposes to re-obey the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) after Brexit with an ever-extending ‘transition period’ and a Chequers plan that will see the UK obey a so-called ‘common rule book’ – probably forever.

The fishing industry and Fishing for Leave have warned that, with much of the industry already struggling, continuing CFP policy for the transition would finish many off.

The transition would allow the EU to enforce detrimental rules to cull the UK fleet. This would allow the EU to use Article 62.2 of UNCLOS to claim Britain’s ‘surplus’ resources that a shrunken British fleet would not have the capacity to catch.

The Fisheries Bill may set in place the legislative ability for Britain to independently take back control, but it doesn’t look like happening soon – which is disastrous.

We also reiterate our grave concern and continue to lambast the failed proposal to address discarding of fish above quota limits whilst keeping the fundamentally flawed quota system that causes the discards.

The government proposes using our repatriated resources to give extra fishing allowances to vessels, so they have enough quota for all species and therefore will not need to discard.

However, this extra will not be allowed to be profited from – it must be landed for free.

All this will do is perpetuate a race-to-fish. Vessels will have to catch more and more to find what they can profit from. Instead of discarding, they will have to land mountains of fish for free.

We have told DEFRA that this will fail spectacularly. Sadly our advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Any betrayal of our fishermen will have serious electoral consequences

Fishing for Leave’s John Ashworth explains why electoral considerations mean that British fishermen will not be sold out to the EU once again.

British fishermen have not had much reason for happiness since we joined the EEC. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has been an ecological disaster and has run our industry into the ground. But last week’s Conservative Party Conference at last gave some glimmers of hope for the future.

The Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, gave us a much-needed reminder of just what is at stake with Brexit – nothing less than our very ability to govern ourselves:

‘At 11pm on 29 March 2019 we will leave the European Union.

‘And soon thereafter, in an extraordinary moment in our history, the EU institutions will no longer have the right to make laws for our country. That power will belong exclusively to the sovereign Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

‘That is a precious prize.’

It is indeed. It means that every single individual MP will become fully responsible for the governance of our nation, something which for 46 years has been missing.

And so how will we use this new-found sovereignty for the benefit of our agriculture and fisheries? The Prime Minister made the goal quite clear in her party conference speech:

‘Our proposal would be good for our rural communities, getting us out of the Common Agricultural Policy.

‘It would be good for our coastal communities. We would be out of the Common Fisheries Policy, an independent coastal state once again.

‘And with the UK’s biggest fishing fleets based in Scotland, let me say this to Nicola Sturgeon. You claim to stand up for Scotland, but you want to lock Scottish fishermen into the CFP forever. That’s not ‘Stronger for Scotland’, it’s a betrayal of Scotland.’

It is high time that someone from another political party took Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP to task on this subject. But it also nails Mrs May’s colours to the mast. If the Conservative government lets our fishermen down, then the SNP will be able to make the same accusation with a vengeance.

And were it not for all those newly gained Scottish Westminster parliamentary seats, Mrs May would not be prime minister now – all down to the fishing issue.

We can be certain of the following. If the EU believes there is going to be a ‘no deal’, it will raise the issue of EU access to British waters. The ball will be in their court: they will have to ask the UK.

If there is silence from the EU on fishing rights, then we can expect a deal – however bodged – so that both parties can move into the transitional period. And the EU will continue to benefit from access to UK waters via its present fisheries policy until 1 January 2021.

Remainers are fond of saying that the fishing issue is too small to bother with, and will be bartered away. I disagree. Like the Northern Ireland border, it will be a key issue, just as it was on accession. This time, British fishermen will not be so easy to sell down the river.

A rare piece of honesty – but bad news

When you are running a very long term campaign, it is surprising where the breaks come from, no more so than this written question from Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland.

Mr Alistair Carmichael: [135549] To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on what date the 1964 London Fisheries convention will cease to apply to the UK; and from that date all EU fishing vessels will be excluded from the UK’s 6 to 12 nautical miles zone.
George Eustice (Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food): The 1964 London Fisheries Convention will cease to apply to the UK on 2 July 2019. During the implementation period, current access arrangements will continue, including access to the 6 to 12 nautical miles zone where permitted under current EU rules. After 2020, we will decide who can access our waters and on what terms. Any decisions about giving access to vessels from the EU, and other coastal states, to our waters will then be a matter for negotiation.

To give George Eustice his due, it was an honest answer although not what our fishing industry wants ot hear. There is, however, more to his answer than appears at first sight.

The UK Government gave two years notice at the beginning of July 2017 to leave the London 1964 Fisheries Convention (which gave certain EU Member States the rights to fish in our 6 to 12 nautical mile zone).

At that period of time, only 3 months into the two years period from invoking Article 50, the government thought that this slight overlap did not matter as we would be coming out of the EU, including the CFP, taking full control of the nation’s marine resource on 30 March 2019.

Because the Government, through wasting so much time, has ended up having to go cap in hand to the EU Commission for extra time, at the first demand from the EU, they surrendered their trump card – fishing. The date of so called exit is now 1st. January 2021

It is not just fishing. For 21 months, unless the government changes course, much of the running of the UK will be handed to the EU. The importance of Mr Carmichael’s question is that the answer clearly shows that the decision to surrender rests entirely with the UK Government, not with the electorate nor the opposition, nor even the EU.

The only other country to leave the EU (then EEC). has been Greenland. I remember it well. While we cannot draw too many parallels, it was noticeable then that Greenland’s negotiators took a bashing from their Brussels counterparts, but they knew their ground, stood firm, told the EEC to get their vessels out of Greenland waters and ended up with an excellent trade deal. What a contrast from our team! What an  unbelievable mess they have made. Greenland understood what control of their fishing waters meant and how important it was. Here in the UK, “control” will essential mean “EU control” as our spineless team of ministers allows Brussels to make all the running.

Fishing: the threat goes right up to the shoreline.

When the Prime Minister gave her first major speech outlining Brexit at the Conservative Party conference on 2nd. October 2016, Fishing for Leave rapidly produced an analysis,  pointing out the pitfalls within the Prime Minister’s plan.

Invoking Article 50 was fine. This would create  a clean break, with no repercussions from the other 27 Member States because they had accepted the terms in the Lisbon Treaty  and the Croatian Accession Treaty What was of great concern was the Prime Minister’s quest for a “deep and special” relationship, which like David Cameron’s red lines, would never be on offer or available, so such a policy would be chasing rainbows.

While FfL could understand the reason  for bringing all EU existing legislation into domestic Legislation, (otherwise on Brexit day there would be vast sections of UK legislation missing), we had serious concerns. This procedure was satisfactory for internal law, but it would cause problems with joint EU external legislation (Regulation) such as the Common Fishing Policy.

This concern was heightened when the Prime Minister stated that all rules and Laws would be the same the day before Brexit as after. The rules can be made to be the same, but the laws cannot be the same, simply because the UK will no longer be an EU member state, but treated as a third country, with no obligation for the EU to treat the UK as compatible.

Because of the huge mount of time wasted at the start of the Brexit process, the UK is having to  go through the process of an implementation/transition period (21 months) and  if the terms agreed with the EU are formally adopted, we face a serious risk of a legal action through the Vienna Convention on Treaties, which could tie us down to the status quo for many years.

By surrendering fishing, the Nation’s resource, for the 21 months of the transition period, instead of leaving the CFP on 29th. March 2019 and introducing a sensible scientific and environmentally sound British policy, we would be continuing with the CFP management, meaning that UKfioshermen would have to be subject to the final stages of the discard ban, which will be introduced at the start of 2019. If it is strictly enforced, by the UK Government’s own findings, 60% of the UK fleet will face bankruptcy, opening up the possibility for the EU to catch more fish in our waters in 2021,. Under International Law  UNCLOS3, Article 62 (3), because the UK would no longer have sufficient catching capacity, what we can’t catch must  have to be handed to our neighbours – in other words, the EU.

If that was not bad enough, the UK government, under the draft withdrawal agreement of 19th. March has agreed Article 125, and section 4, though paragraph 1, to allow the European Commission to propose to the Council that they can adopt measures on fixing prices, levies, aid and quantitative limitations and on fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities.  This includes the waters right up to UK beaches, as the derogation for the 6 and 12 nautical mile limit will have fallen, so the UK can say goodbye to the inshore lucrative squid fishery, and  shellfish  industry.

Our coastal communities will continue to decline, in spite of the token Government support of the Coastal  Communities Fund which, since 2012, has encouraged the economic development of coastal communities. So far £170 million has been spent and the scheme is now to be extended to 2021 with a possible further £90 million spend. That  is a pittance compared to the possible potential of over £6 billion annually our UK marine life could generate.

The only success which the UK Government can claim is leaving the 1964 London Convention, but that will  be tested July 2019, when all EU vessels should be excluded from the 12 nautical mile zone. That will be a test on whose law is superior EU or UK, as July 2019 will be during the transitional period.

There is no doubt that during the 21 month period, the UK fishing Industry, thanks entirely to UK Government policy, will be worse off than if we had stayed in the CFP . For the Prime Minister to say we will come out of the CFP in 2021, taking control of our Nation’s waters, to run our own affairs, is chasing rainbows, as the European Parliament has made it clear there will be no trade deal without EU access to UK waters. There is strong evidence to suggest that the EU was not prepared to consider any transitional agreement if we regained control of fisheries. Having capitulated once for the 21 month transition, a second capitulation – trade deal for fisheries access, is inevitable.

Without a legally watertight binding document in the next few months stating that nothing within our EEZ will be given away, the Prime Minister will not be believed.

This is not the fault of the EU, which will strive for the best deal for the benefit and unity of the remaining 27 member states. Our Government  has been told, and warned of the consequences of their actions, but it seems determined to push our maritime heritage beyond the point of recovery – to become global Britain, a land mass only. To repeat, it was the decision of our government to capitulate. The European Commission’s “notice to stakeholders“, published today (9th April) could not have been clearer, “As of the withdrawal date, the Common fisheries policy rules no longer apply to the United Kingdom…In accordance with international law of the sea, fishing vessels wishing to engage in fishing activities in waters under the sovereignty or jurisdiction of a third country are required to obtain a fishing authorisation from that third country.” This could not be clearer. The government held all the trump cards, but threw them away.

The actions of the UK Government is proving that it has a very different interpretation  of  Brexit from those who voted leave. The problems that will arise for the UK stem from  our own Government’s policy, no one else.

Fishing for Leave has constantly pointed out the pitfalls of Government Brexit policy, and one extra concern which we wish to highlight is the fate of the 12 nautical mile zone during the possible transitional period from 30 March 2019 to 1 January 2021.

One has to remember that basis on which the UK has exclusive rights in the 6 and 12 nautical mile zones  zones is a derogation, by regulation, from our EU Accession Treaty (which gave the EU rights up to our  low water mark.)

On the 29th March 2019 the EU treaties cease to apply, which in turn takes out the regulations, so at that point we are our cleanly out, with no repercussions. However, if we find ourselves subject to the CFP in all but name, there will be no derogation this time.This means that EU vessels can fish in the 12 miles around our coasts – wht out the limitation of quota. This would ruin our   shellfish and squid fisheries. Much of this catch is sold to the EU, but it now looks like EU vessels can catch and harvest it themselves.

The only saving grace, could be what Fishing for Leave tirelessly campaigned for, the removal of the 1964 London Convention, which allows foreign vessels into our 6 and 12 nautical mile zone. This should take effect on the 4th July 2019, and it will be a huge test of Government resolve, to see if they capitulate 100% and continue EU vessel access. If they do, EU vessels will be up to the beaches, and like the Kent Kirk case in January 1983, thanks to our Government’s own actions, there will be nothing we can do about it.

Michael Gove, the secretary for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was living in a fantasy world when he replied to Alastair Carmichael with these weasel words:-

“There is a significant prize at the end of the implementation period, and it is important that all of us in every area accept that the implementation period is a necessary step towards securing that prize. For our coastal communities, it is an opportunity to revive economically. For our marine environment, it is an opportunity to be managed sustainably. It is critical that all of us, in the interests of the whole nation, keep our eyes on that prize.”

Both Mr Gove and the Prime Minister had previously stated categorically that we would leave the CFP on the 29th March 2019 and take back control of our Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical mile/median line, but in order to secure what will be a disastrous 21 month transition to buy moew time (in other words, to cover up the fact that they didn’t have any idea about a final settlement), the Government surrendered our EEZ to the EU.

Just to remind ourselves, here are Mrs May’s words:-

We will be leaving the common fisheries policy—and, as I indicated, the CAP—on 29th March 2019. The arrangements that pertain to fisheries during that implementation period will, of course, be part of the negotiations for that implementation period. Leaving the CFP and the CAP gives us the opportunity, post-implementation period, to introduce arrangements that work for the United Kingdom. The Environment Secretary is discussing with the fishing and agriculture industries what those future arrangements should be.

Can we trust her? After recent events, no amount of words, promises, assurances, will convince coastal communities that come 2021, the people’s marine resource will back under national control. After such a volte-face, they are justified in assuming that it will be given away for a trade deal, just as it has been given away now for the 21 months transition. The EU will demand that position for a trade deal and the UK Government will capitulate, and hand it over.

Just look at Article 125  part 3 of the draft UK draft leaving document :

The Union may exceptionally invite the UK to attend, as part of the Union delegation, international consultations and negotiations referred to in paragragh  1 of this article, to the extent allowed for Member States and permitted by the specific forum.

What a degrading, humilitating position the UK Government has placed our nation in.

Finally, part 4 states:   Without prejudice to article122(1) , the relative stability keys for the allocation of fishing opportunites  referred to in paragraph 1 of this article shall be maintained.

Paragraph 1 relates to article 43(3) TFEU : The Council, on a proposal from the Commission, shall  adopt measures on fixing prices, levies, aid and quantative limitations and on the fixing and allocaion of fishing opportunities.

As relative stability keys can be changed, the EU can take what they like out of UK waters.

DEFRA (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, claims that it had reached a deal with the EU whereby the UK’s share of the catch in our waters wold not be reduced during the transitional deal, which includes keeping the 12-mile limit exclusively for UK fishermen. Whatever DEFRA might, however, as far as the 12 nautical mile zone is concerned, based on the draft Withdrawal Agreement Article 125, it is wrong.

The 6 and partial 6 to 12 nautical mile zone is protected presently by a derogation within Regulation 1380/2013. That Regulation ceases to apply to the UK when we leave the EU on 29 March 2019.

DEFRA will argue that this isn’t the case because through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill this Regulation has been incorporated into domestic legislation.

Not just DEFRA but the UK Government as a whole is making a huge mistake in this thinking. While our rules might be identical, as we have pointed out, the legal basis is not the same, simply because we will no longer be a member state. In order for this arrangement to be acceptable with the EU, it would have to be incorporated in a treaty.

Until that happens, the wording of Article 125 relates from the base line (Low water mark) out to 200 nautical mile/median line.

Even if the EU agrees by handshake to maintain the existing arrangements, without a legal basis, EU vessels will enter our 12 nautical mile limit to take non quota species, such as squid, cuttlefish and scallops.

The only saving grace, could be the UK’s withdrawal from the London 1964 Fisheries Convention, commencing 4th July 2019, which withdrawal excludes all EU vessels from within the 12 mile zone. A determination to enforce this exclusion will be another test of the Government’s resolve. Will it stand firm, or capitulate? If it is the latter, then as with the 21 month implementation period, it will be certain capitulation over any trade deal which might come into effect at the end of 2020.

The fishing industry is not going roll over and Fishing for Leave will be organising a series of protests in ports up and down the country to highlight the plight of the industry – to be betrayed a second time by a Conservative government. Details of the location and dates of protests will be found in this article, which will updated regularly.

What angers fishermen and their supporters is that this surrender is totally unnecessary. If the government needs more time to negotiate a long-term deal, then why not go for the EEA/EFTA route as a holding position?   As far as fisheries is concerned, it would mean that we could take back control and the EU would be powerless to stop us. It could not stop us signing up to an arrangement which it has already signed with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein and would also mean that any negotiations on a long-term trade deal would be starting from a much better position. Having regained control of fishing, we could make it clear to the EU that sharing our resource once again, to the detriment of our national fishing industry, will not be on the table. Indeed, it could not be on the table as the electoral price would simply be too high.

Why the government is sticking so rigidly to its suicidal course remains a mystery, but yesterday’s protests are only the start. Our fishermen have their backs against the wall. They have nothing to lose. The government – and the Conservative party in general – by contrast has everything to lose.

Why are we forsaken?

A Heartfelt Letter by Fishermen Who Feel Forsaken

My name is Steve Barratt and I live in Ramsgate Kent. I work in an industry that is not wanted by either the EU or the UK Government and everything that could have possibly been done to stop me from going to work has been done.

I expect alarm bells are ringing as to what I actually do for a living, could I be a drug runner, a people trafficker, an internet hacker, a hit man or something similar?

Well, you will be pleased to know that I am none of the above – I am in fact a commercial fisherman operating an inshore, under 10m boat out of Ramsgate Harbour.

I work in a mixed fishery and catch quite a variety of fish such as cod, bass, plaice, skate, dogfish, dover sole and many more. It is impossible to avoid these fish when in a situation whereby I have no quota for a particular species.

When I catch fish with no quota the EU ruling is that I must return it to the sea. In most cases these fish are dead or have little chance of survival. The EU are aware of this and despite receiving many protests and plea’s to change the quota system are not prepared to do so.

They are hell bent on making everyone abide by the CFP (Common Fisheries Policy). This is an inept quota system where fish can only be landed if quota is available. If quotas not available, they have to be dumped dead into the sea.

To make matters worse, the UK Government is hell bent on enforcing these rules and regulations. They have employed numerous people and organisations to police any fish landings that are made in the UK.

The EU has decreed skates and rays are ‘endangered’ and have given virtually no quota for this species. Fishermen are seeing an explosion in skates and rays, they are everywhere, yet because quotas don’t reflect this we have to dump skate dead into the sea.

We then have to keep catching and dumping skate as we try to catch other fish to make a living. This makes it impossible for a boat to be profitable and does nothing for conservation.

Our Government needs to be held to account over this gross miscarriage of justice and the rules and regulations need to change to provide the industry with a better way of operating. Unfortunately, this cannot be done until we successfully leave the EU.

Only then will we be able to take back control of our territorial waters, abolish the Common Fisheries Policy and implement a better and more sustainable method of management of the industry – the government can’t keep the status quo for the sake of the fishermen or the fish.

Under no circumstances can this industry be involved in any so-called transition period where we’re stuck in the CFP. Out must be out on 29th March next year before what is left of the British fishing industry is consigned to museum and memory.

Welcome Intervention from Mr Gove & Ms Davidson Needs Clarity

Fishermen’s organisation Fishing for Leave strongly welcomed Mr Gove and Ms Davidson’s words but say more clarity is needed and the government needs to stop playing semantics.

Michael Gove and Ruth Davidson’s interventions come days after it seemed that senior government figures would fail to rebuff the EUs demand that a condition of a Free Trade Agreement is continuation of; “existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources”.

Mr Gove and Mrs Davidson stated their commitment that;

“As we leave the EU, we want the UK to become an independent coastal state, negotiating access annually with our neighbours….. the Prime Minister has been clear: Britain will leave the CFP as of March 2019”.

Fishing for Leave says it is welcome that both have lent their support to this but say where this turns south and these statements can ring hollow is they are impossible to fulfil if fishing is trapped in a transition and clarity is needed on this.

They it is an admission that fishing will be in a transition in the words;

“during the implementation period we will ensure that British fishermen’s interests are properly safeguarded.”

Alan Hastings of FFL said “It’s stating the obvious that the UK will officially “leave” the CFP on March 2019 as our membership ceases under Article 50. However, the transition means re-obeying all EU law after we leave meaning Brexit In Name Only (BRINO)”.

“During a transition the EU can enforce any detrimental legislation to cull the UK fleet which makes the pledge to safeguard British fishermen and a bright future academic and hollow”.

“There’s been well publicised representations to the government and MPs that being trapped in a transition will see a large proportion of the UK fleet culled under forthcoming inept EU policy that is already agreed”.

“This would allow the EU to use international law (Article62.2 of UNCLOS) to claim the “surplus” resources the UK would no longer have the fleet capacity to catch”.

“So why does the government stop playing semantics and clearly state in unequivocal terms not that we ‘leave the CFP’ but that there will be no continuation of it in any way shape or form post 2019?”

“Until that assurance is forthcoming everything else is a PR exercise playing on words that folk are getting sick fed up with regards Brexit”.

WELCOME COMMENT ON RESOURCES MUST BE ACHIEVED

FFL commend sboth Mr Gove and Ms Davidson for reinforcing that “we agree we must deliver a fairer allocation for the British fleet in our own waters”.  This echoes the PMs speech of “fairer allocation of fishing opportunities for the UK fishing industry.”

Fishing for Leave highlighted that under international law and ‘zonal attachment’ a nation is entitled to a proportion of any shared stocks based on the abundance of that stock in its waters.

Alan continued; “We hope and look forward to Mr Gove and Defra publicising that a “fair share” is no less than the 750,000 tons of fish the EU catches in British waters every year that are rightfully ours in exchange for the 90,000 tons we catch in theirs”.

“Anything less than fulfilling the government’s commitment to work under international law and therefore this international premise of zonal attachment would see a token gesture towards fairer shares”.

It’s music to hear senior politicians acknowledge and advocate that “We believe it is vital that we regain control over our own fisheries management…. we both agree that our fishing industry stands to benefit from our departure from the common fisheries policy”

“It is vital that the opportunity of repatriating the 60% of the fish the EU catches in British waters, which could double the British fishing industry’s worth to £6-8bn every year, is achieved”.

“FFL looks forward to the government substantiating the welcome whispers from Defra that new UK policy will give fair opportunity to all fishermen under a more sustainable management system to see the dividend of repatriating our waters help to rejuvenate coastal communities”.

“This is needed to replace the environmentally disastrous CFP which has forced consolidation to ever fewer boats and ports but if it is vital to regain control and they recognise fishing an benefit why trap fishing in a transition for 21months where the EU can move the goal posts?”

STILL NO REBUTTAL OF TRADING FISHING FOR TRADE DEALS

There is still no rebuttal to the PMs speech and Philip Hammond’s suggestion on agreeing shares and access to UK waters as a giveaway for a wider deal.

The PM said;

As part of a new economic partnership we want to continue to work with the EU to manage shared stocks in a sustainable way and to agree reciprocal access to waters

This statement and Hammond’s comments openly state that fishing will be tied and sacrificed as negotiating capital for a new economic partnership.

All this flies in the face of Mr Gove and George Eustice’s earlier comments at an EFRA Select Committee that fishing access and resources wouldn’t be tied to wider trade negotiations.

It’s time for the government to come out fighting to unequivocally succeed on this “acid test” by clearly saying there will be continuation or any ties to the CFP after March 2019 and that we really will take back control.