EU – common access to Britian’s fisheries

In amongst the welter of claim and counter claim that the EU referendum has spawned, there are a number of facts that need to be brought to the attention of the public prior to the vote, writes Iain McSween, former¬†chief executive¬†of Britain’s largest fisherman’s producers organisation- the SFO.

One of these is the fact that the fishing industry in Britain has been decimated by our membership of the EU.

But this should come as no surprise to anyone who has looked at how the original six members effectively set the rules governing the fishing industry.

They rigged the rules in such a way to ensure Britain would lose the rights to harvest the fish stocks that are found in British waters- these stocks account for the majority of the so called EU fish pond.

A quick look at a map reveals that the original members: Belguim,Germany and Holland have very short coast lines. The fleets from these countries survived by having access to the waters of principally the UK. France and Italy have substantial coastlines especially in the Mediterranean, although France has a long Atlantic coast line.

But the French fleet traditionally concentrated on the waters to the west of Ireland and the UK and the waters around Shetland. Luxembourg has no coast.

These six member states decided in the Treaty of Rome, that common access to each others waters was to be the cornerstone of fisheries policy. Free access was and still is enshrined in the Treaty and applies to this day.

In effect this means that all current 28 member states have equal access to British waters, although there is currently an arrangement based on quota shares that prevents a sudden influx of vessels from countries

How long this derogation will last no one knows, but if an excluded member state were to challenge their exclusion, there is little doubt that the European legal system would find in their favour, throwing all the current arrangements into chaos.

Common access to fisheries is the piscine equivalent of the free movement of people.

But just as no one expected literally millions of people to cross the borders into the EU, no one ever really expected there to be 28 countries fishing in the waters surrounding the British Isles.

Rules that a small group of countries could live with have been carried forward in the name of European solidarity even when they make no sense. The greatest threat to fish stocks is excessive fishing effort causing an imbalance between what is harvested and what the seas can sustainably produce. By making free access by all members the heart of EU policy this is a certain recipe for disaster through overfishing.

To their credit, Norway saw the difficulties the EU approach to fisheries management would cause. It was for this very reason that the Norwegian people voted to remain outwith the EU, when Britain, Denmark and Ireland opted to join.

The Norwegian fishing industry has thrived, whilst the British industry has been decimated and the English industry has effectively ended up being owned by Dutch and Spanish companies.

It is time to take the opportunity to restore national control and give Britain the chance to be like Norway to allow our fish and fishermen to thrive.