The case for taking back control of Britain’s fishing industry

At this time when some people may be still unsure about which way to vote in the ‘Brexit’ referendum on June 23rd, the Fishing for Leave group speaks to a random selection of some well-known figures in the UK fishing industry and asks why they think that opting out of the European Union regime would benefit the British commercial fishing sector in the long term:


  • Jim Portus – South West Fishermen’s Producer Organisation

FFL - Jim Portus - SWFPO

I am urging people to vote for ‘Leave’ on June 23rd because, not only do I not believe the scaremongers in the ‘Remain’ camp, but I am also convinced by the arguments set out by George Eustice, the current UK Fisheries Minister, in his paper on fisheries post ‘Brexit’.

Furthermore, as a quota manager, I have wrestled for many years with never having enough quotas to be able to allocate to our fishermen members.

Not only was the UK stitched up in the 1983 agreement, particularly in relation to fishing grounds in Area VII, but also that the UK had to share its meagre allocations with foreign-owned ‘flag of convenience’ vessels that have been able to masquerade as British since 1977.

The Merchant Shipping Act of 1988 attempted to end the pariah of quota-hopping, only to have its provisions dashed by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

If we leave the EU we can not only negotiate better terms of access to our own waters and resources, but our Parliament can be sovereign once more – and no longer having to bow to the rulings of the ECJ.

Regaining those quotas may not be a priority, but in the longer term it would obviously be best if British fish is caught by British fishermen.

I say bring on the Brexit and let’s take back control of that which should be controlled BY the UK and FOR the benefit of the UK.




  • Carol MacDonald – Cod Crusader

FFL - Carol MacDonald - Cod Crusader

From a community aspect I didn’t hesitate to participate in the ‘Fishing for Leave’ campaign when I was asked.

Even though it is a decade or more since my finger was on the pulse of the fishing industry, I can clearly see the ever-decreasing level of fishing activity in our coastal communities who rely so heavily on fishing in socio economic terms, heritage and tradition.

This has not been a gradual turndown and it has impacted severely on local businesses and employment numbers – the lifeblood of smaller rural coastal regions.

Being part of the European Union, and its ridiculous regulations has seriously damaged countless fishing communities and has badly eroded a previously sustainable way of life.




  • Cormac Burke – FishComm Ltd.

FFL Cormac Burke - FishComm Ltd.

Although well known for being highly critical of the EU Fisheries Commission through my many years of being an editor of three different fishing industry newspapers, I must confess that I initially had some doubts about whether an ‘In’ or ‘Out’ vote would be best for the long term future our fishing industry.

However, after giving consideration to the fact that no policy or strategy of fisheries management is ever likely to improve whilst this industry remains in the hands of the EU Commission (indeed it may get much worse), and that such policies are extremely likely to see major change in the event of an exit from the ever-complicating red tape from Brussels, I believe that getting out from under the almost feudal tyranny of EU control is the only option left open to those in this fishing industry who want to survive.

Aside from the many, many poor decisions made by the EU Fisheries Commission over the years (too many to list here), the biggest issue this industry has with the EU is ‘responsibility’, or in many cases, lack of responsibility:

  • Several extremely expensive EU-wide ‘renewal of the fleet’ vessel building schemes were inevitably followed by even more expensive schemes to scrap vessels (sometimes including some of the newly-built ones) – but at no point did the Commission come out and admit that they had ‘cocked-up’;
  • A much publicised EU ‘Common Fisheries Policy’ (CFP) ruled the industry for twenty years and eventually it caved in due to the weight of opinion against the inefficient and unworkable strategies it included — and was replaced with a shiny new ‘Reformed CFP’ which promised much in that it was to include the input from fishing industry leaders but it ultimately neglected to utilise any of the common sense proposals put forward by the industry;
  • But perhaps worst of all with regard to responsibility is the EU Commission’s steady inference to the general media that if the biomass of some fish stock is in a bad way then it must be the fault of fishermen for overfishing it – but if a stock shows to be in a healthy state, the Commission quickly ‘makes hay’ with the media to praise their own work.

I say this is the ‘worst’ sin of all because, in reality, the situation is the exact reverse – many fish stocks have greatly improved solely due to the technical conservation measures (TCMs) that fishermen themselves have voluntarily introduced and meanwhile the stocks that have collapsed have been because the EU Commission has mis-managed them or given too much quota to one country and not enough to another, or in general did simply not know what it was doing.

All of this leaves a simple decision for the British fishing industry – leave or witness the ongoing collapse of a great national resource, tradition and maritime heritage.




  • William Whyte – MFV Forever Grateful FR 271

FFL William Whyte - Forever Grateful

Since becoming more involved in our family business in recent years I have witnessed first-hand exactly how ludicrous and weak the EU negotiating power regarding fish taken from UK waters actually is.

When pelagic fish stocks quotas (mackerel, herring, etc.) are discussed at EU Coastal States’ meetings, the UK doesn’t even have a seat at the table and we have to rely on our own fisheries ministers whispering in the ears of the EU negotiators before the meeting – meaning that most of the time we are just crossing our fingers that they come back with a better deal for UK fishermen.

It seems at these meetings that whoever digs their heels in the most comes away with the best deal, and the EU Commission is almost always the first to give in.

Therefore, why are the United Kingdom not entitled to a seat at this table, considering that it is our fish from our waters that is being decided on?

Fair balance in this situation can only be found if we leave the EU.

Over the past four decades the UK pelagic industry – both the catching and processing sectors – have made massive investments and made slow but steady progress in quota (TAC) restrained, sustainable fisheries and the current health of these stocks, mackerel in particular, is testament to that.

But the Faroe Islands, for example, by giving themselves increased allocations of mackerel, have made as much progress as we have in just ten years instead of forty by taking matters into their own hands.

This, in my view, is because they have a government that is totally supportive of their fishing industry while we are bound and gagged by EU regulations and red tape.

Meanwhile, as you read this right now, other countries such as Greenland and Iceland have seen how the Faroese fishing industry has benefited from their opportunistic strategy and they too are likely to follow suit.

And what pot will these extra ‘share-outs’ come from?

Of course – from the UK and Irish TAC… But now is the time we must regain control on negotiations to stop Brussels giving away any more fishing rights in our waters.

If we were to succeed in our attempts to break away from the EU, I would like to think that we could retain most of the conservation measures that are already in place but more importantly, allow our fishermen to have an input into what measures should (or shouldn’t) be implemented in the future and not have regulations which have been thought up by bureaucrats in Brussels, thrust upon us.




  • John Buchan – Atlantic Challenge PD 197

FFL John Buchan - Atlantic Challenge

Since the EU referendum was announced last February, I have become increasingly disappointed as most of our Scottish industry have refrained from stepping on toes and rocking the proverbial boat in Europe because, apparently, it would ‘not be in the industry’s long term interest’.

After 40 years of betrayal I see it very differently – and therefore I fully endorse the ‘Fishing for Leave’ campaign.

At last here we have a chance to tell the great British public a few home truths about our once-great industry.

How we have been continually sold down the river for the so-called ‘bigger picture’ and the ‘greater good’.

In my own case, I was frustrated in watching the setting of TACs for deep water species, when the French-held EU Presidency proceeded to move the goalposts to their own national fishing industry’s benefit and left the British deep water fleet without any fish.

Similar threads of the same story have been a recurring theme over the past 30 years – for example, how the English fleet has just 20%, compared to the French quota allocation, of the English Channel and Celtic Sea; how, as a Coastal State Member of the EU, the United Kingdom has to allow a Mediterranean Commissioner to lead in the North Atlantic quota negotiations with the Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese fishery ministers…

‘Fishing for Leave’ is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save what is left of our fishing industry and hopefully try to rebuild it for a sustainable and viable future for the long term.




  • David Stevens – Crystal Sea SS 118

FFL - David Stevens - Crystal Sea

I urge anyone, especially those of you are undecided on which way to vote, to take a look at our fishing industry.

We are unique as we are one of the few industries that is completely run by the EU — from its foundation right up to the day-to-day laws, all is decided and controlled by the EU.

Even when we discuss fishing with other States outside of the EU, like Iceland or Norway, the UK fisheries minister has no seat at the table even though more often than not 60% of the waters up for discussion belong to the UK.

Just recently the EU has given away 50% of our pelagic stocks to Iceland, Faroes and Norway and given them full access to our waters to fish within.

All of this seems to be have been done for what they consider ‘a greater cause’ increasing membership and trade, but it has nothing to do with sustainability.

Also when the EU decided to put a TAC (quota) on deep water species, something the British fisherman had fished for in our waters for years, instead of sharing this TAC out equally, France who held the EU Presidency at the time, awarded most of the TAC’s to themselves and now our fishermen must stand by and watch them land this valuable catch into our ports while profit from this.

The arguments to leave for our industry are very clear, not from a financial point of view but something that being British citizens is deep-rooted: FAIRNESS, COMMON SENSE and DEMOCRACY.

I see the main problem of the EU is that it has lost sight of what it needs to be.

We see this clearly in our industry and, for us, a vote to leave will give us the opportunity to make a better job of management of our industry.

The UK has always led the way in the world on so many issues and still can, we just need to have more freedom to do this.

I think that if the UK were to vote to leave this would be a good thing for the EU itself as it would have to consider and question, the reasons why we chose to do this.

We would in fact be leading by example of democracy the way forward for the EU.

I know by speaking to many of our EU counterparts, particularly in Denmark, Ireland, Holland and Germany, that there is huge support for the British to take this lead.

So let us take a step into something we are still familiar with, the sunlit uplands of common sense, fairness and democracy — VOTE TO LEAVE FOR ALL THESE REASONS GREATER THAN OURSELVES.