FFL Interview in Le Monde

*A majority of British fishermen seem to be highly derogatory towards the European institutions. Most of them would have voted for Brexit. How do you explain that? Does this detestation  seem a legitimate greviance?

The resentment is not only against the EU as an institution but also the political establishment who were complicit in betraying our nations resources and industry as a sacrifice on the altar of the EU integration project.

The hatred of the EU is two fold –
1) It has engineered a resources grab where the UK has lost the control of our waters and the majority of our resources under the principles of equal access and relative stability shares. Britain was always going to loose in a common EU policy when we had the lions share of resources.

2) To compound this misery the CFP is an abject failure as a management policy. The most hated aspect of this is how the EU system of quotas doesn’t work in our mixed fisheries. They force fishermen into mass discarding of fish, meaning we are catching more to land less whilst hurting profit and the environment by having to catch a lot to find what we are allowed to keep.  This has hurt stocks, impinged on the financial health of the industry and caused inaccurate reporting which produces bad data and therefore bad scientific assessment. They whole system is an abject failure that is locked into a continual downward spiral.

*Is the CFP alone in the blame for the problems faced by UK fishermen?

Politically, as mentioned above, the complicity of our own establishment in the deliberate sell out of our industry has neither been forgiven or forgotten.

In terms of management primarily the CFP is to blame. Although there are huge inadequacies of implementation within the UK our administration are nothing but minions enforcing EU edicts.

The CFP is the primary culprit having denied us access to our own resources and foisted policy that is flawed, inadequate and which is dreampt up by a centralised bureaucracy that has taken a lofty approach of top down management whilst being totally disconnected from the reality on the sea.

The principle of bureaucratic micro management of the oceans is what gave birth to the quota regime and all the problems it has caused. Instead of recognising the fundamental failures the EU went into regulation overdrive of making more and more laws as sticky plasters to try to cover a gun-shot wound.

The plethora of regulations never addressed the cause of the problems but made more and more rules to ban the symptoms that the EU’s ill fitting laws had caused – the ill thought out discard ban is the prime example of this back to front stupidity.

*What do your organization expect of the negotiations which are about to start between UE and UK, as far as fishing industry is concerned ?

What we expect to get and what we expect to be delivered are probably two different things. To our mind there is nothing to negotiate, we default back to national control under international law as per the provisions of Article 50, Section 3.

As a minimum the majority of the industry and public have set their expectations that

  • We will absolutely abrogate the CFP when leaving the EU and no longer be bound by EU laws as per Article 50 Section 3.
  • That all sovereignty, control and access over the entire UK EEZ and all resources within it will be repatriated to the UK as we revert entirely to national control under international law.
  • As we have the predominance of waters and resources that there will be no joint policy with the EU as a halfway house compromise and that initially all access will be controlled for UK vessels only.
  • That a new British policy that is fit for purpose economically and environmentally will be implemented to replace the CFP. A policy that must work from the bottom up and operate with and is reactive to the ecology rather than try to impose a rigid bureaucratic structure on it.
  • That British management will end the policy of discarding fish and work for all fishermen and all communities to rebuild our industry and communities after the degradation they have suffered at the wrong end of horrific treatment within the EU.

*Do your organization want, at the end, Europeans to be prohibited from accessing UK fishing grounds ?

From the initial time of Brexit until we stabilise our own industry absolutely and categorically yes! We shouldn’t be running our waters as an international charity but for our own strategic national benefit.

We will be no different from Norway, Iceland or Faroe in that respect – it is the CFP of trying to create a common EU resource that is an anomaly.  In years to come, under the provision of international law, we can allow limited reciprocal access or swaps on a needs must basis. However, 99% of people are unequivocal that reciprocal access on a needs must basis should not be a continuation of equal access in a different guise.

*Are not these just threats to weigh in the negotiations?

Not particulary, it is just the UK and the British people reverting to the international normality of most nations managing their resources and territory for their own benefit.

There’s no threat in it and no maneuvering or benefit over negotiating it is just simple fact that we have some of the richest fishing waters in the world and we are taking them back after having been robbed by an EU policy that supported an EU industry to our detriment for 30+ years.

Our industry was expendable and was scrapped to join the EU it is now the turn of the EU fishing industry that was built on pillaging our resources to be expendable as we leave and safeguard our nation and our people’s interests – the free lunch is over.

*What if the EU close the access to the European market, in retaliation ? The British have an interest in maintaining access to European market – It is in the interest of Europeans to continue fishing in British waters. In this context, is it not highly likely that the negotiations will lead to a status quo?

The sabre rattling over markets in exchange for continued unfettered access to pillaging our waters does not particularly perturb the majority of the industry.

60% of the catches in our waters are taken by EU boats to EU markets (excluding flag ships). The loss of this will increase EU markets dependency on British seafood not lessen it. The reiterated point that the UK exports 50% of our catches to the EU is a strength not a weakness. It shows that UK seafood is in demand and that the EU needs our fish – more so if EU boats can’t pillage our waters.

Can the EU afford to spite itself to punish Britain with a hungry population to feed? How long will EU seafood merchants hurt their business to stand in solidarity with EU fishermen?

Worst case scenario is we diversify into an ever increasing world market just as Norway and Iceland do and promote more UK fish consumption domestically – currently we export what we catch and import what we eat – that is something that should/could be addressed. Given the underlying financial weakness of the Euro we may have to anyway.

We certainly don’t need EU waters and although it would be preferential to maintain friendly relationships and supplies of prime quality British seafood to a hungry EU market we have got to be able to catch our own fish before we sell it.

Therefore, we don’t perceive the status quo as any way acceptable or beneficial to our industry, communities or country.  It is time for Britain to break free and rejuvenate our industry to be a vibrant, well run industry and recognise our potential of being a global seafood leader.