Tensions With France Come To Surface

Reports as Britain musters a fleet to repel foreign trawlers

Grimsby, a Labour constituency, relies on the fish industry…except the pic shows Whitby!

Austin Mitchell tweets “A sad example of the journalism of the south. This is a picture of glorious Whitby masquerading as poor bloody Grimsby”.

Britain is building up a fleet of more than 40 ships and two surveillance aircraft to keep EU fishing vessels out of its waters after Brexit, ministers have admitted. It follows the “scallop war” of September 2018 when French vessels rammed British trawlers off the French coast and recent comments from Didier Guillaume 

France’s fishing minister, who said that French boats would ignore any post-Brexit restrictions.

French fishermen have also threatened to blockade Channel ports if they are expelled from UK waters. At least eight of the UK ships will be armed naval vessels, part of the fishery protection squadron operated by the Royal Navy, which has been told to triple the number of days it spends patrolling fishing grounds.

Another 25 ships will come from England’s 10 inshore fishery conservation authorities, each of which has one or more vessels, ranging from fast “rigid inflatables” to 90ft ocean-going vessels. Inshore fisheries officers have been given extra legal powers to board EU fishing vessels and impound them.

The fleet will also include the Welsh government’s three fishery patrol vessels and another three operated by the Scottish government. This was revealed in a briefing document released to the House of Commons library before parliament was dissolved.

Patrols will be overseen by the government’s Marine Management Organisation, using a satellite-based vessel monitoring system and two surveillance aircraft with high-definition cameras to record illegal fishing. The tension follows Guillaume’s comments in July when he said “There is no scenario in which French fishermen should be prevented, could be prevented, would be prevented by Boris Johnson from fishing in UK waters. There is no reason for it. And on that point I really want to fight”.

The potential for fishing to become a post-Brexit battleground has been heightened by the UK as well. This weekend it was announced that French, Spanish and other foreign boats exploiting UK fishing grounds would be forced to employ British crews and land their fish in UK ports once Britain has left the EU.

“A lot of the UK’s fishing quota is now owned by foreign fishermen and Britain gets no benefit because the quota is caught by EU vessels and landed in EU ports” said George Eustice

the fisheries minister. “Post-Brexit fishing agreements are going to take some time, but what we can do immediately is enforce the requirements for an economic link so that EU vessels will need to land about half their fish in the UK, have 50% of their crew from the UK and do half their boat maintenance here”.

Eustice’s comments are designed to match a similar pledge in Labour’s manifesto, which lambasts the Conservatives for failing to protect North Sea cod stocks. These have plummeted by up to 60%, partly as a result of overfishing. Britain’s fishing industry is economically trivial, generating only about 0.1% of GDP. But it is politically important because many ports are in marginal constituencies where fishing is crucial for the economy.

Newlyn

Cornwall’s largest fishing port, is in St Ives, where the Tories beat the Liberal Democrats in 2017 by 312 votes. Labour is defending a majority of 2,565 in Great Grimsby, a town reliant on fish processing as well as fishing, while the Lib Dems are defending majorities of 3,512 in North Norfolk and 4,563 in Orkney and Shetland.

Fishing communities have complained for decades about the EU’s common fisheries policy, under which the UK, to gain entry to the then Common Market, surrendered many of its traditional fisheries to the French and Spanish.

“The EU fleet now catches six times more fish in UK waters than we do in theirs” said Barrie Deas of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations. “The French get 84% of cod in the Channel but we get 9%. In the Celtic Sea, from northern France to the Irish Sea, France gets 66% of the haddock and we get 10%. We want these anomalies corrected.”

Paul Joy, of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society, said Brexit could mean a bonanza for south coast fishermen if politicians keep their promises. For other sectors, such as shellfish, the benefits of Brexit are far less clear because most of the catch is exported fresh to the EU. Brexit could mean tariffs and delays at ports, risking the catch being degraded.

Eustice said he wanted a deal but was preparing for conflict with the new fisheries protection vessels. “We have also signed a contract for two surveillance aircraft to monitor foreign fishing vessels and are looking at drones, too”.

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