One of the main Spanish industry newspapers, Industrias Pesqueras, recently asked Fishing for Leave to give the Spanish industry a British Industry perspective on Brexit and what it means for future relationships with the continent.
How did the organization come about?
Fishing for Leave was created in 2016 when the referendum was announced. This was due to the disconnect between the two federations who purport to represent the industry, where a certain governing clique of vested interests hid behind a guise of neutrality, and the majority of fishermen in Britain who were ardently for escaping the EU which has severely degraded our industry and dependent communities as the British industry was sacrificed on the altar of EU integration.
The referendum was the final straw for many who felt that the policy of appeasement adopted by some through the 90s and 2000s had badly let the industry down. Fishing for Leave wasn’t created as a trade protection body to protect a few interests on a managed decline to last man standing, FFL was created to realise our industry and countries potential to be a world leader equal to Norway when we regain sovereignty and control over all our waters and resources after years of inept management in the EU.
Fishing for Leave is constituted entirely of working fishermen and is made up of dedicated individuals who have sacrificed a lot to build up an organisation from an idea to a potent representative and fighting force in such a short time.
How much representation do they have in the sector? Is the backing for Brexit in fishing unanimous?
Fishing for Leave is the only organisation in the industry with a nationwide membership and structure constituted of fishermen from all sizes and sectors. The policies we advocate as a radical departure from the disastrous management of the CFP, will allow all fishermen to prosper and end the adversarial situation of infighting that was administratively created deliberately to divide and conquer. What FFL advocates is fit for purpose policy that works for all and due to that for the first time we have created a unity across large and small and across regions.
There is a select minority within the industry, just like in the country, who for their own interests would like to remain and to hell with everyone else and that is who FFL will continue to fight for the majority against.
What was the role of FFL during the previous brexit campaign?
Many commentators say substantial. Especially with the Thames flotilla a week before the vote when 30 vessels, representing all regions and sectors, took our industry’s cry for a better future for one of our iconic national industries to the heart of government, we have continued unabated since then in the corridors of power.
That flotilla was conceived not only to answer our countries call to campaign to regain our independence but to put fishing back on the political map which we are very happy to say it is amply done. To mobilise a national campaign which conceived and conducted the most prominent event of the referendum campaign was a proud achievement for those who gave it their all to fight for our freedom.
What role do you think fishing has played in brexit? Has your message reached the society?
Fishing is certainly high on the political map and public conscience and is now perceived as one of the acid tests of our countries extrication from the EU project. A large part of that is due to the huge part of our campaign in raising the prominence and the studious work behind it.
Ultimately, although they are unaware of the specifics, the British public have always known that something bad happened to fishing and it was sold out. FFL played a big role but we have poured petrol on a fire that was already there.
It is incontestable that fishing was bartered away by the British political establishment as a sacrifice to join the EU. Fishing is perceived as not only a national affront that EU fishermen rob the majority of our resources but also epitomises the EU dictating how we govern ourselves and our national prostration at the hands of the EU and our own complicit political elite.
As fishing does epitomise our enmeshment in the EU it is quite rightly seen as a yard stick of whether we have left. If the politicians try to sacrifice it a second time in a generation now people are aware of the situation there will be political hell to pay.
UK sector catches the 20% of the volume in EU waters and put 80% of the products in Europe. For you, what should be the post Brexit scenario? How do you see future fisheries relations between the UK and the EU? maybe fishing agreements?
The British fleet only catches 16% (avg. approx. £102m pa) of our fish in EU waters which is insignificant against 59% of fish in UK waters (avg. approx.. £711m pa) that is being caught by the EU fleet.
Loss of access to EU waters is trivial when weighed against the enormous repatriation of our own resources in our own waters which is worth 7 times more. Loss of EU water is probably even more trivial to the indigenous British fleet when one considers that much of that catch in EU waters is probably made by EU vessels which are on the British registry (flagships).
There will be a disruption to some vessels in some sectors that will necessitate a change of working patterns but what we lose is more than compensated for by what we gain many times over.
With Article 50 saying “the treaties shall cease to apply” so to shall the CFP along with its terms of equal access and relative stability shares underpinned by it. As the rest of the EU has agreed through the treaties for this to happen there is no recourse for the EU to argue for a continuation of the status quo.
Consequently, Britain can revert to international and domestic legislation which will allow us to exercise exclusivity sovereignty, control and access for our own fleet over our own waters and resources.
Diplomatically, there is no requirement to grant access and strategically, due to the resources situation detailed above, there is little benefit to allowing the EU access.
Although there is no reason once we have control of our waters and resources that we can’t agree limited access on a needs must, mutually beneficial reciprocal basis in the limited cases necessary. Scallops in the Baie de Seine and British sector of the Channel is an example.
It’s quite simple that we are going to become like Norway, Faroe, Iceland and other sovereign nations when we withdraw from a common EU policy and can husband our own resources for our industry and communities benefit.
The free lunch that the EU fleet took advantage of and thought would never end is going to be over as we revert to international normality rather than the politically contorted CFP.
How should common waters be managed?
As Britain will be an independent, sovereign coastal state we will be under the obligations of UNCLOS and therefore there is no reason we cannot work with all our neighbours to ensure that stocks are husbanded well and sustainably at an international as well as domestic level. We see Britain taking her seat at the NE Atlantic Fisheries Commission which can act as a forum to agree strategy and share outs as currently happens between the EU, Norway, Iceland, Faroe and Russia. It will just be that Britain will be acting independently rather than being subverted into an unfair EU system.
After years of a rigid CFP not only being massively detrimental to our interests but a managerial and environmental disaster area the majority of the industry wouldn’t want to replicate the same situation but work equitably in loose agreement with our neighbours on sustainability and where necessary limited reciprocal access
Who would control fishing in these waters and how would the sanctions regime be established?
Britain will have the right to exercise sovereignty, control and access over all waters and resources within our EEZ under international law just as other nations do. Therefore, it would be the British government and parliament as elected by the people who would have discretion over policy and access. There is no reason with modern technology, through which there are international agreements on its implementation to avoid Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing, that management cannot be enacted easily.
We would like to see any EU vessels granted access to British waters have to land the catches taken in Britain to economically benefit our nation and ensure compliance and that those vessels have to fish to our management regimes. As happens in Norway and Faroe any visiting vessel in breach of its access conditions should be escorted in and heavily penalised to avoid any ideas that British waters can be sustainability fished in a free for all. Strict enforcement and impoundment penalties, as Norway enforces, will discourage anyone who thinks Britain’s open for a free ride. The Royal Navy has already made calls along with parliamentarians for extra assets and resources to enforce our boundaries.
The EU sector says that both parts are interdependent. Are you concerned about access to Community markets? Have you considered your trading strategy before the rupture?
This is the only desperate diplomatic lever the EU has left, now there is a tactic acknowledgment that the UK holds the diplomatic cards regards access and control. The continual reiteration that Britain exports a lot of fish is actually a show of weakness, not strength and misses the point.
If a large proportion of British seafood is exported to the EU then it is obviously in demand. With the loss of access to British waters and the 59% of our fish that makes up over half of EU catches EU markets are going to need our fish more not less.
How long will EU merchants, buyers, supermarkets, processors and consumers going to harm their businesses to stand in solidarity with EU fishermen excluded from British waters? It is a hungry market with fish a staple in the southern EU states, hence the desire for access to be continued, and we don’t see demand subsiding due to a political divorce.
Were the EU to hurt its food supply to make a political point there is no reason Britain cannot diversify into a hungry global market, as the other Nordic nation’s do, along with encouraging domestic demand and tastes since we import what we eat and export what we catch.
There are those in the processing/sales chain who are obviously pessimistic at the loss of their current markets but there are always those who see the glass half empty. The majority of the industry is not bothered by the EUs threats or the market, with the perception being that we need to be able to catch fish before we sell it and therefore a market is no use without fish.
What will happen to the investments? Joint ventures, new projects in progress …
The limited number of joint ventures will have to readjust to the new politically reality that benefits and was voted for by the majority. That is no different to those who had to readjust to the loss of 60% of our fleet, half our fishing jobs and the reduction of many areas to a cottage industry. Being in the EU wasn’t rainbows and unicorns but a hugely painful experience for a lot of people and now it is time to rebuild which will benefit all concerned.
There is no reason that joint ventures and investment can’t continue whilst ensuring that all future investment in vessels and fishing opportunities have majority British interest and holdings as Norway and Faroe ensure in their fisheries.
Do you think the CFP is a good model for future UK fisheries legislation?
Absolutely not. The CFP has not only been a national affront and massively to our detriment but to add salt to the wound has been an economic, social and environmental disaster as a policy of management.
It has been an arrogant, unwieldy, centralised bureaucracy totally detached from the reality on the sea, where political objectives of ever closer union have taken precedence over good management.
The biggest manifestation of this failure is the Quota system in demersal mixed fisheries, set up as a convenient way to administer and divide up resources, it fails miserably by trying to impose arbitrary targets on a dynamic marine environment.
The disconnect between what is thought to be in the sea based on the onerous landings data quotas generate and the fluctuations in stocks is the cause of mass discarding and reduced profitability where fishermen have to spend extra time at sea dumping fish to find what they can keep to match quotas.
What we advocate is a system of effort control where vessels will be limited in soak time fishing hours in exchange for being able to keep what they catch, accepting that in a mixed fishery you can never accurately catch particular species.
Such a system means vessels will catch less fish but be able to land all their catches. This will allow accurate science as landing will reflect catches and abundance and with real time monitoring will allow a dynamic, holistic approach of real time management in response to stock fluctuations.
We have incorporated secondary systems into effort control to provide some individual species deterrents to avoid a free for all on high value species so vessels do work to an overall harvest of the ecology. This works by a system of time penalties where vessels can keep the “wrong” type of fish if encountered in exchange for a loss of soak time hours in compensation.
In a global market such as fishing, are you worry about the possibility of isolation or is it an opportunity for you?
A huge opportunity, this is what everyone forgets, the EU is not a global happy club but an isolationist protective block that is trying to weld continental Europe into a federal super state and therefore is isolationist to the rest of the world.
Across the spectrum Brexit allows Britain to regain our traditional role as global nation where we operate across the world to pursue our own best interests rather than subvert them to a federal club. This will allow us freedom to trade globally and to hopefully work more closely with our kith and kin who we so shamefully abandoned to join the EU.
Fishing is no different in this national perspective that we will be able to look after our own best interests and work with neighbours and globally in management and trade of fisheries and its products.
Fishing has never been a priority in UK government policies, however it has been one of the most mentioned issues during the campaign. Do you believe that fishing has been used politically by advocates of Brexit?
The question is more, do those who patriotically advocate Brexit see fishing as a fellow traveler? Is fishing using Brexit?
It has never been a priority to the metropolitan establishment who are found across the continent and are complicit in the EU project but to the British people, and many MPs, a grave wrong was inflicted on our coastal communities and marine environment.
We think and hope there is now a resolve to remedy that and in doing so create a world leading industry which fulfils its potential and provides rejuvenation to coastal communities that have suffered so much.
Recently Minister Michael Gove opened the door to fleets from other countries in British waters, do you think there is a change of position on your part? Do they feel cheated?
As previously mentioned there is no reason not to have some access where it is mutually beneficial and politically it is self-harming for any politician to be seen to remotely sell out the fishing.
There is a difference between diplomatic positioning and results and with this wonderful opportunity to make fishing a beacon for Brexit the only people who can harm it and themselves is the politicians. It is in their hands but we and many in the public are resolved that this acid test of Brexit will be fulfilled.