Many within our industry still keep faith that we are still part of the great British fishing industry, with British quotas, British control and British regulation – if only that were the case — John Ashworth reports
In remaining steadfast in this belief these people, often through no fault of their own, do not understand the meaning of the crucial ‘equal access principle’, and are therefore, rightly so, worried about what would happen if the UK left the European Union.
The first thing that the British public must understand is that what we currently have is a European Union fleet in ‘Union’ waters and operating under Union quota.
In joining the EU, Britain has given control of fisheries to the EU and resultantly our fish has been divided to other member states under the policy of Equal Access to a Common resource.
Yes, it appears British, because the full integration process under the equal access principle is not yet complete, and under the principle of what is known as ‘relative stability’, Britain is allocated a share for the UK authorities to then administer to the national fleet.
But what is not understood is that relative stability is not the saviour of the British fishing industry, but indeed works against us — if a new nation joins the EU with a fishing fleet, larger than the currently existing EU percentage share-out, to their resource, then the UK allocation is reduced, resulting in even more pressure to reduce what we wrongly call ‘the British fleet’.
The big question
What therefore would happen if Britain were to leave the European Union?
A lot depends on which route is used.
Unfortunately, a lot of scare mongering and empty threats are being bandied about to discourage the public to even think about what a Britain independent of EU control might mean for the future. However when the dust settles, it is more than likely, to secure a smooth transition, that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty would be used which would represent a two-year window for the UK to smoothly leave the EU.
Then the European Communities 1972 Act would have to be amended, taking back control of the living marine resource, within the 200-mile median line zone that our Westminster Parliament gave to the EU 43 years ago.
The EU quota would no longer apply, because the resource, which under International Law belongs to our nation, would entirely be back in UK control.
It would then be entirely British fish allocated and managed at Britain’s discretion for Britain’s interests alone.
One need only look at Norway and Iceland to see how sovereign nations can look after their fisheries
“The CFP of the equal access principle is the killer. It always has been, and will remain so. The only secure future is to be free of that principle, and the only way for that to happen is to free Britain of the EU shackles of fisheries mis-management”
Critically, what we don’t want to happen, is to replace the horrendous politically-orientated and repeatedly failed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), with an equally bad system and, in the transitional period of change, historic rights of British fishermen will have to be acknowledged and safeguarded.
Now is the time that the British fishing industry must begin to give this matter some consideration.
There is the existing deadline of 31st. December 2022, when the present management system in the CFP terminates, so the transitional period of change has to be completed before then.
For those in the inshore sector, who think their rights to either the 6 or 12-mile limits under the CFP are secure, they are not, as, after 2022, all other Member States can apply the equal access principle up to the base line if they so wish.
The CFP of the equal access principle, is the killer, always has been, and will remain so, the only secure future is to be free of that principle, and there is only one way, and that is leave.
The choice is simple — carry on as the EU fleet where the majority of fishermen will continue to struggle just to exist, never mind be viable — or be part of a true British fleet and formulate a genuine marine policy, one made by fishermen and for fishermen.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime challenge and an opportunity to ensure a future for the next generation, and to restore our coastal communities to their once-proud traditional role as part of a British heritage of seafarers and fishermen.