Will the Government Betray Brexit with the Status Quo?

At a meeting in Penzance last month, Fishing for Leave (FFL) highlighted the huge potential that exists with Brexit to rejuvenate UK fishing and coastal communities.

However, a grave warning was that the Great ‘Repeal’ Bill will adopt the entire CFP into UK law, continuing the status quo, unless pressure is put upon both the government and certain vested interests in the industry to exempt fisheries.

UK fisheries resources were sacrificed to join the EU in a move that has caused untold devastation and heartbreak to the fishing communities all around the British coastline.

At present, approximately £1.6 billion worth of British fish is taken from British waters each year. Multiply that up to include work provided for the fishing communities to prosper upon and it becomes apparent a massive multi-billion pound industry is been taken from our waters for free. We are being robbed of our national resources.

Billions of pounds to the UK economy have been lost, and over a million tons of fish has been discarded caused by an EU quota system that is unsuitable for the UK mixed demersal fisheries.

However, Brexit, and the unique potential clean slate this opportunity represents, can set a new course to rejuvenate and rebuild the industry, provided this is not jeopardised.

Do we want to rejuvenate the UK fishing industry and rebuild ports that are simply no longer in action or continue with the current decline under the status quo?

Brexit requires two questions to be addressed:
1 – how does the UK get out of the EU?
2 – what happens afterwards?

By international law under UNCLOS 3 the UK has an EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) where all resources therein – either living or mineral – belong to the nations and are therefore rightfully ours.

However, UK fisheries were subsumed by the EU on UK accession to the EEC but can be repatriated in full when the UK withdraws from the EU.

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Using software and a database built by Fishing for Leave the level of national resources automatically repatriated to the UK was highlighted. Looking at just four key species (Cod, Sole, Haddock and Monk) in the South West the three major ports of Brixham, Newlyn and Plymouth could double their landings.

 

A Clean Slate; Betrayed?

To understand how to get out of a mess one must understand how it occurred in the first place. One must understand the legal underpinnings of the CFP and that the entire CFP is constructed of Regulations.

  • In 1970 the CFP was formed by Regulation 2141/70 with the principle of community waters and equal access to a common resource.
  • In 1973, the UKs Treaty of Accession, Article 100, agreed to the CFP, this permitted the European fleet access and ability to build-up a huge track record in our waters.
  • In 1976, the UK recognised our 200nm EEZ with the Fishery Limits Act however our EEZ was automatically subsumed to EU control under the auspices of Regulation 101/76.
  • In 1983, Regulation 170/83 recognised historic rights and established a quota regime and ‘relative stability’ share-outs; based on them. This resulted in seventy per cent of all fish resources within UK waters being handed-out to the European fleet.

Everything else within the CFP after these initial stages are branches from the core trunk.

Article 50, Section 3 clearly says “the treaties shall cease to apply”; this would mean two years after Article 50 is triggered all EU regulations and resultantly the CFP would cease to apply to the UK.

EU equal access goes, EU relative stability quota go and we would be left with a clean slate to implement our own new fit for purpose policy to benefit everyone – there is nothing about withdrawal to negotiate!

Those saying “barter access for quota” or peddling that we must negotiate either don’t understand the legalities or are looking to whitewash and backslide on Brexit.

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Graphic using the example of Area 7 Haddock showing current allocation, the level of the total TAC caught in UK waters by the EU and Post Brexit allocation based on total catches in UK waters.

Of dire concern is that at present the government proposes to adopt all EU laws into UK law with the Great “Repeal” Bill before Article 50 runs its course – this would see the entire CFP continued.

This would see all EU law transposed into UK law – the UK would have adopted equal access (allowing the EU fleet to continue to fish UK waters), relative stability quotas (continuing the huge slice of UK resources awarded to EU fleets) and would see the current discard ban adopted.

The Government says that it will pick-out what laws Britain wants, and repeal the rest. Based on the Government’s history, that is a worrying proposition. The UK has a ‘remain’ minded Prime Minister, considerable ‘remain’ power within the government and Members of Parliament who are trying to overturn Brexit.

The fishing industry is not high on the government’s agenda, there is little desire to be contentious to the EU over an “insignificant” industry and little parliamentary impetus to start shredding adopted EU regulations – we would be trapped in the CFP in all but name.

The UK would be in a worse position, as by recognising and continuing EU equal access, EU quota shares and the EU discard ban as it would be an inexorable battle to unpick the ‘UK’ CFP due to human rights legislation, the Vienna Convention on treaties and under a lack of political will.

The industry must fight to stop adoption of any element of CFP; otherwise we will have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

A Devastating Pincer Movement

The industry would be crushed in a devastating pincer by adopting the CFP – on one hand recognition of EU access and EU relative stability quotas. On the other the discard ban which combined with a continued quota system will devastate what is left of the fleet with choke species.

The discard ban fails to address the cause of discards – that quotas do not, and never will, work in the UK demersal mixed fishery – and merely bans the symptoms rather than address the cause.

All ideas advocated to mitigate the discard ban are nothing more than re-arranging the deck chairs as the ship sinks – The discard ban will see the acceleration of the consolidation of the fleet, into fewer hands, as most fishermen do not have enough quota to survive.

The UK must take the opportunity of a clean slate to implement a ‘fit for purpose’ policy which is inclusive of and benefits everyone. A policy that fits the ecology of UK mixed fishery rather than trying to fit the ecology to the policy with catch quotas and a discard ban.

The leave vote was a clear endorsement of taking back control and borders – fishing is about control and the UK EEZ is the national border – fishing will be the acid test of Brexit and a betrayal on fishing will be a betrayal of Brexit.

 

The Government needs to have the courage to stand-up for a critical national interest and hold fishing up as a beacon of Brexit.  To say to the EU “we’re very sorry, we know that you’ve had a fantastic time for the last 40 years catching 70% of our fish, but like Norway, like Iceland we are going to run fishing for our communities and nation.”

Britain’s fishing industry has the potential to equal that of Norway. That is the opportunity Brexit represents, it is within our grasp and cannot be squandered for political convenience or vested interests.