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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Fishing: The forgotten industry and the acid-test of Brexit

Does Brexit mean Brexit, with the change that we need, or will it just be business as usual

20th November 2016
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The EU's Common Fisheries Policy is a drain on the British economy. A condition of entry into the EEC, as it was then, the British government was required to surrender control over its fishing waters on 1st January 1973. Under United Nations rules a country now has the right, even the responsibility, to control the sea around its coast stretching out for a total of 200 miles or until the median line between two adjacent nations.


The European Commission opened UK waters to all other member states fishing fleets, apportioning fishing rights as they see fit. The Common Fisheries Policy costs Britain more than £3.7 billion per year caused through the EU depriving the UK of its valuable fishing grounds.


In 2012 UK fishing vessels landed 627,000 tonnes of sea fish (including shellfish) this yearly catch has a value of £770 million.[i] This is 13% of the value for the total EU catch.[ii] In 2012 British vessels account for approximately 12% - 13% of the total size of the EU catch.[iii] This figure remains relatively constant. In 2010 the total EU catch amounted to 4,923,000 tonnes, the share of this going to UK fishermen is 608,000 tonnes.[iv] The British catch in 2010 was again approximately 12% - 13% of the total for the EU.


This means that the EU fishing industry is worth £6.4 billion. Approximately 70% of this catch is taken in what were once British fishing grounds, now governed by the EU and open to vessels from other EU member states. This means that if these waters were fully reserved for UK fishermen, which would be legal under international law, then British fishing vessels would be able to land nearly £4.5 billion worth of fish. Yet the clear majority is being lost to our competitors in the EU, with British fisherman only being able to land £770,000 worth of fish.


Other estimates suggest that 80% of the total EU catch comes from what are, by United Nations standards, British waters. This would put the figure of the total resource taken from UK control by the EU at more than £5 billion.


The problems of the CFP are not just economic. The EU’s quota restrictions have had a disastrous environmental impact. For decades, if a vessel landed more than its allotted amounted they must then discard the fish that exceed the EU’s legal limit. The result was that as much as two thirds were returned to sea dead. Subsequently fish stocks declined significantly; further reducing the bounty of the sea. This policy has turned the once abundant North Sea into an ecological crisis zone. After more than four decades there has finally been some change, but the discard ban will only address the symptom of the EU’s disastrous free for all policy, the discarding of fish, rather than the actual cause, the EU’s control over quotas. The British fishing fleet will again be decimated as vessels must stop fishing when they exhaust their quota allocation.


The devastation on this industry can be measured by its human impact. In 1970 there were 21,443 fishermen in the UK; by 2012 that figure had been cut back to just 12,445.[v] The loss of jobs and the once active fishing fleet also had a detrimental effect on secondary industries that supported the fishing fleet and benefitted from the proceeds from this once sizeable business.[vi]


The effect of EU control via the Common Fisheries Policy has been to seriously damage a once strong industry. Landings into the UK have fallen from 1,039,100 tonnes in 1970 to just 489,100 in 2012. This steady decline has led to a growing dependency upon imports. In 2010, a total of 687,054 tonnes of seafood worth £2.23 billion was imported into Britain.[vii] That is British people having to buy back our own fish form foreign competitors. This must change, and with Brexit it should, but will it…?


This subsidising of foreign fleets by British consumers could be reduced if UK fishermen had their exclusive rights restored to them. There must be the full repatriation of UK resources and a fit for purpose UK policy implemented to allow the rejuvenation of this multi-billion-pound industry.


However, it is proposed by the Prime Minister Theresa May to incorporate the entire body of EU law, known as the Acquis Communautaire, into UK law. This will be via the so-called Great Repeal Bill. Yet, all EU law will include the legislation that underpins the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).


The CFP is a reprehensible policy, both in terms of conservational and in operation. It would be expedient and advisable diplomatically and politically, that no facet of it is replicated, transposed or continued into UK law. Doing so would be to risk recognising in UK law the mechanisms of the EU’s policy – especially EU “equal access” and resources shares. That would be an abject betrayal of Brexit.


The CFP is constructed entirely of Regulations (direct EU law). Under the terms of Article 50, section 3, “the treaties shall cease to apply”, consequently so will the regulations and therefore the entire CFP and all mechanisms of it. The UK would revert to full control of our waters and all resources therein under international law (UNCLOS 3), with a clean slate to implement our own policy like Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands successfully manage.


The proposed Great Repeal Bill, as it stands, however, would negate this by adopting the CFP onto the UK statute book. This may prevent us from rebuilding and rejuvenating the industry and our long suffering coastal communities. If Parliament passes a bill that adopts into UK law the Common Fisheries Policy, along with all its iniquities, then our Members of Parliament will be betraying the industry again, just as they did in 1972 when the European Communities Act was passed into law.


To make sure that our fisheries are protected, the adoption of EU law into British law must exclude the Common Fisheries Policy. It is an area where UK law, and a sustainable policy for the benefit of our home fleet, should be put into place as soon as we leave the European Union. There must be no transition, it must be instantaneous.


Future policy must scrap all EU mechanisms, move to a Days-at-Sea, keep what you catch system, that is applicable to mixed fisheries – the Faroe Islands set this precedent in 1996.


The UK’s fishing industry could be a triumph for Brexit and Britain. The fishing industry and the communities that depend upon it can be saved as long as the Government exempts fisheries from the Great Repeal Bill, and puts into place our own policy. Indeed, British fishing can thrive as a world leader alongside other independent nations who fish the North Sea; Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.


The British fishing industry was betrayed and bartered as expendable by Edward Heath when he sought to join the EEC. Fishing has become a microcosm and epitomises both the disaster of EU interference and incompetency. Due to this, fishing will be symbolic of withdrawal and will be the acid test of whether Brexit mean Brexit, with the change that we need, or will it just be business as usual.


Fishing could be held up as a beacon of the Government’s resolve and whether they can make a success of Brexit. As a nation, we should be bold. Aside from the London Convention of 1964, which granted rights to those who had habitually fished between the 6 and 12-mile limit for the 10 years prior to 1964, there is no provision for historic rights under international law on fisheries for the fishing limits from 12 to the 200-mile limit. It is the 200-mile limit that was snatched by the EEC as the price for admission into what became the EU. All current ‘rights’ for other EU fleets, and anyone else the European Commission has sold access to fish in our waters, comes via EU law. We can take back control from those interlopers, unless we are foolish enough to put those same regulations into force ourselves.


We need a British fishing policy ready to replace the failed EU system.


With the assistance of Fishing for Leave, Save Britain’s Fish


[ii] The European Fishing Industry, Struan Stevenson MEP, President of the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament, page 9,_2000-2010_(1_000_tonnes_live_weight).png&filetimestamp=20121022153701



[v] UK Sea Fisheries Statistics 2007, Marine & Fisheries Agency, 2012, page 24

[vi] Batten, Gerard, How Much Does the European Union Cost Britain? 2008, the Bruges Group



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