Fishing For Leave

Or, leaving for OUR British fish industry

Did you know that under the BoJo deal UK fishing waters will not be returned to the UK, and EU members will still fish UK waters as they do now?

North Devon wants a fishing community

What would you say to a fishing industry policy that includes a “Discard Ban”, which causes a fish welfare issue. Instead of returning fish inadvertently caught in the nets, or which exceed the targeted quotas, they’re required to land everything and send it to landfill. Traditionally, fishermen like to look out for live, juvenile fish and return them into the sea so they can continue to mature. Now, if they’re caught and are on the Discard Ban list, they have to be sprayed with dye and landed dead, which is cruel and compromises stock sustainability.

It’s appalling from a welfare point of view and a terrible waste of perfectly good fish. There’s also the problem of ‘Choke Species (Fish)’, where if more than the allowed quota of that particular type of fish is caught, the boat has to return to port.

Cod (on the Discard Ban) was a problem from day one, especially for the u10m vessels which had very little FQA’s, in some cases as little as 10 kilos of fish (ie, one fish!) per day. If they catch over the quota allowance they would have to return to Port. A very similar situation with Haddock which are in abundance in the South West, but unfortunately there is very little quota for the local vessels.

This has had a catastrophic effect on the Cod trawlers, which couldn’t go to sea under these rules and remained tied up in port. Bass is not part of the Discard Ban, so you can return them live or dead back in the sea, because they’re considered endangered. Very few are allowed to be caught, but there’s a healthy population of Bass off the coast of North Devon, which could be sustainably fished locally.

The new political declaration setting out the UK and EU’s intentions on a new relationship after Brexit doesn’t change what will happen to fisheries compared to the one negotiated by Theresa May’s government. The UK is still due to leave the Common Fisheries Policy at the end of any transition period and be an independent coastal state. If a withdrawal agreement is passed by Parliament then this transition period will last until December 2020 (or 2022 at the very latest).

A new fisheries agreement will form part of the negotiations on this new relationship. The political declaration isn’t legally binding, but it says that the UK and EU should “use their best endeavours” to reach an agreement on fisheries by 1 July 2020.

Currently, fisheries in the UK and in the EU are managed under the Common Fisheries Policy, rules meant to conserve fish stocks and and maintain fair competition between fishers. Under this policy, the EU sets a ‘total allowable catch’ for each species of fish. This is the number or tonnage of fish that can be caught each year. This is then split between EU countries, forming their national quota. M. Macron insists on the French keeping its EU gifted quota!

When (if) the UK leaves the Common Fisheries Policy, it will become an independent coastal state and be able to negotiate access to our waters in return for access to other markets and territorial waters. This will form part of the negotiations of the future relationship that will take place during the transition period. Most fish the UK currently exports goes to EU markets (and most of the fish we consume is imported from countries outside the EU).

The UK has also announced its withdrawal from the London Fisheries Convention. But the government’s white paper on sustainable fisheries acknowledges that there are other international obligations on fisheries the UK will still need to abide by.

Around 88% of the Welsh fishing quota is held by Spanish firms. This isn’t a level playing field because it’s practically impossible for us to buy quotas from Spain. And around 50% of the English fishing quota is held by Holland, Spain and Iceland (which buys quota from the EU). The French and Belgian trawlers have access to around 70% of the UK fishing quota, which is conducted through international ‘swaps’.

When you think that boats from North Devon have less than 1% of the overall Bristol Channel fishing quota the Common Fishing Policy has been a disaster and has resulted in the devastating decline in the North Devon fishing industry. To put this in context, in the SW, it is believed that around 80%-90%, of the Fixed Quota Allocations (which decide the unit size of fish per tonne) is owned by about 3% of companies. This means there’s only around 10% of FQA’s available for the 97% of the local fishermen in the SW. As a result, big companies are controlling the smaller local fishermen through small leased quotas.

We need a tailor-made UK fishing plan. A clean Brexit has great potential to regain some fairness in the distribution of quotas to help community fishing industries. It could potentially double or even triple the size of the industry. For each job at sea, four or five are created on land with the fish processing business.

At the moment, the UK vessel catch values are approx £1 billion (2018) and with the fish processing value added, increasing to approx £4 billion (2018). The EU catches 60% of stocks in British waters. Post Brexit, with control of quotas returned to the UK, the UK vessel catch values would be approx £2 billion, increasing to around £8 billion after processing. The UK fishing industry employs around 24,000 people. Post-Brexit, fishing could increase to 2% of GDP and could be worth £billions if we had our quota back. The industry could feasibly grow to employ 100,000 people. What’s not to like about that?

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