Taking back control of “our fish”?

Posted on: 2nd April 2018

Fishermen risk their lives to put food on our tables. So they don’t deserve to be deliberately misled, as they have been.

I’ve always campaigned for an HONEST and DELIVERABLE policy for our fishermen; and have consistently opposed the irresponsible attempts of Conservatives and others to visit a cruel hoax on British fishermen.

Like others i want our fishermen to have a fair share of available fish stocks. Something denied them by the Conservatives who claimed, at the time of negotiating access to the EU in 1973, that the UK fishing industry was “expendable”!

Without any shame, they then used to claim while in opposition that they could leave the CFP whilst remaining in the EU. That was impossible. They never admitted that dishonesty but eventually and quietly dropped the policy. But they never mended their dishonest ways…

Taking back control

The Brexit supporting majority of Conservative MPs then falsely claimed that Brexit would mean an “automatic restoration of the 200 mile/median line boundaries, bringing everything…back into our jurisdiction”. Further asserting that these waters are “British and therefore it is only within the power of our parliament to decide who gets what quota”. Fishermen were led to believe that the UK would “take back control” of all British territorial waters and secure a self-rule policy as far as the fishing industry is concerned.

I cautioned against believing this and warned that the situation for the industry could become worse, not better. Why? Well, because:

1. The fishing industry could not be divorced from the Brexit haggling. It could find itself ‘traded’ against other objectives (holding on to Gibraltar, protecting our financial services, retaining preferential access for our fish into European markets etc). For example, it was the then Conservative Government which saw the fishing industry as “expendable” when we entered the EU in 1973;
2. International access to our waters is governed more by other international law like the UN Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) than it is by the EU’s CFP. Did the Tories forget to mention that? Securing full control and excluding foreign vessels involves complex international law. Pulling out of the EU and with it the CFP does not in itself achieve this. Indeed the UNCLOS wasn’t established until the mid 1980s. So we’re not “taking back” control of anything, because all we had before we entered the EU was our 6 & 12 N mile zone!
3. I agree the CFP quota system is a blunt instrument with unintended, counterproductive and damaging consequences. But I suspect the industry would in fact prefer to keep a quota system than many of the potential alternative management regimes. Personally I favour greater use of closed areas, closed days and intense satellite surveillance. But many in the industry would object. And don’t believe that fishermen who own quota won’t sell this and their license to foreign companies and vessels. This has happened before and is likely to again. Except when we leave the EU we’ll end up governed by the hated Common Fisheries Policy, just as now, but HAVE NO SAY in how it’s managed. Before the `UK was a powerful voice and successfully brought about many sensible and beneficial changes to policy. When we leave we have NO INFLUENCE!
4. We depend on sales of our fish into European markets. For example, up to 90% of all fish caught and landed by Newlyn based boats is sold to the EU. It is unlikely we would wish to risk alienating our primary customers. If we’re outside the Single Market we’ll then face the very same regulatory check, including catch compliance, health checks, veterinary and phytosanitary checks which we impose on third countries importing to this country. This could;d decimate our export market making many parts of our catching sector unviable. But no one talks about this.
5. There are many other reasons. Not least that most of the fish which can be found in UK waters are in fact migratory. In other words they are shared with other nations and cannot therefore be managed entirely within the waters of one country without reference to others.

Consistent record

Of course i know my Brexit supporting detractors will have a pop. But I doubt they will actually look at all that i did, achieved and campaigned for while i was MP for the area. Check out the record (including the records on this site) and the many speeches I made and campaigns i led, including my time as Shadow Liberal Democrat Fisheries Minister.

The future prospects of the British fishing industry are vexed by angrily expressed wild assertions …none worse than the cruel hoax of claims made by local & national Conservatives who misled local fishermen as part of their campaign. Their Brexit bedfellows in UKIP are holding meetings calling on people to fight for “our fish”. I wonder how the majority of fish, which migrate between UK and other waters, feel about having to carry blue passports?! But when I call public meetings to hold the Tories to account they run a mile. the local Tory MP clung to his bunker throughout the referendum campaign when i held well attended public meetings with expert speakers who covered this and other topics very well. They don’t need to attend meetings or to be held to account or to have their lies exposed, because they know that the media are useless and fake news always seems to win anyway. So why should they bother?

We need a better and a more honest policy

For my part a successful post Brexit fishing policy has to start with political leaders being honest with our fishermen about what can and can’t be achieved outside the EU. Something massively lacking, especially now.

We will need to establish strong bi-lateral agreements and rights with the EU. Yes of course we should seek to secure the maximum control of both commercial fish stocks and marine conservation rights within our territorial (200 mile & median line) waters, but should be honest with the industry how much can be secured, bearing in mind the migratory nature of the majority of stock, historic catch records, the capacity of our industry and the risk of losing licenses to foreign vessels and companies anyway.

A system of effort management to build a sustainable industry based on strong marine conservation standards and stock recovery targets should be the principles. A (natural) regional management system with all stakeholders (fishing industry representatives working with marine conservationists, scientists, enforcement authorities and market reps etc) would make decisions. Not politicians. I expect we’d need to have EU representatives on these bodies or at least refer matters to them too. The regime would be one based on a rolling five year programme and to get away from the annual horse-trading as now.

Finally, the sooner we could phase out quotas and replace this with a zonal management system with strict satellite surveillance the better and more effective we could be. Coupled with a drive to improve the selectivity of catching gear along with ‘closed days’, seasonally ‘closed areas’ and mutually agreed ‘no take zones’, we’d be moving towards a more rigorous and sustainable management regime. But then, it’s my belief that’s the direction the EU was moving anyway.

I regret to say that, even after the transitional/implementation period, which is the cause of the latest furore, the British Fishing industry will not be the independent self-rule utopia promised by those Tories when they wanted your vote…