The fishing industry
is urging politicians to support its goal of exiting the Common Fisheries Policy within one year of the general election. Scottish Fishermen’s Federation
chief executive Elspeth Macdonald said it was now clear to representatives of all political parties that the fleet would prosper when control over who gets to catch what, where and when in UK waters is restored to the country’s governments.
But because of the well-established round of international negotiations at which coastal states meet to set quotas for the year ahead, it is vital for the implementation period for fishing to end – as proposed – in December 2020.
Ms Macdonald said “We recognise that there will be challenges in the year ahead if we are to meet this timetable for a managed transition for the sector. However, the industry stands ready to address and overcome obstacles to us in leaving what is widely seen as an excessively bureaucratic and at times punitive and contradictory framework in the shape of the CFP.
“We hope politicians of all parties will recognise the benefits to our coastal communities and the wider economy of a larger, more prosperous and sustainable industry, where the potential to double the amount of raw material caught by the Scottish fleet could result in an uplift of £500 million in value and up to 5,000 new jobs, according to a Scottish Government report.
“This can only be achieved when control is restored to the UK as a sovereign Coastal State”
Ms Macdonald observed that the industry’s requirements had been clearly and consistently stated since the referendum of June 2016:
• That the UK becomes a sovereign Coastal State and regains full control over its own waters, known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
• That in doing so the UK and Scottish governments will have the power to determine, in relation to our fisheries resource, who gets to catch what, where and when for the benefit of our coastal communities and wider economies.
• That the whole Scottish fleet is able to seize the “Sea of Opportunity” that exiting the EU presents, securing early gains in the form of quota uplift and year-on-year gains thereafter.
• That sustainability of our fisheries will be enhanced by leaving behind the practice enshrined in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of allocating some 60% of fishing opportunity in UK waters to non-UK EU vessels, moving instead to zonal attachment, a modern and evidence-based method of allocation according to where fish stocks actually are.
• That no linkage should be made between access to UK waters and access to EU markets.
But who has the balls to do it? Johnson? Corbyn? Swinson? Don’t hold your breath, there are people with long memories of sellouts. Around 20 years ago, fishermen in Fleetwood, Lancashire, managed to make national news by inviting several dozen Spanish trawlers to join their cooperative. This “unprecedented marriage of convenience” provoked fury from other British fishermen. The Spanish vessel owners in question were (and still are) known as “quota hoppers” – fishermen from other countries who had bought British boats and licences to gain access to the UK’s fishing quota.
By last year well over a quarter of the UK’s fishing quota, 29%, was in the hands of just five families on the Sunday Times Rich List. The reach of this tiny domestic elite dwarfs the holdings of the many quota hoppers, who in total hold 13% of UK quota. Overall, more than two thirds of the UK’s fishing quota is now in the hands of just 25 companies. Over the decades, British fishermen have developed a deep frustration with the CFP, which in turn has driven huge support for Brexit among coastal communities.
New Economics Foundation researcher Griffin Carpenter suggests “Every year, quota is allocated to the same holders, and there is a legitimate expectation that that continues in future. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other organisations are too scared to break that hold on the quota and say ‘This year we will allocate quota differently.’ It has not been done; it is basically privatised now the claim is so strong. If there is ever a point to break that link, it is now”.
Who has the balls?