Wednesday, 6 April 2016

"Brexit would mean bigger quotas - but no free-for-all, states fisheries minister"

Fishereies Minsiter George Eustace and Local MP for Penzance and St Ives, Derek Thomas are due to pay a visit to Newlyn and meet fishermen with 12 weeks to go to the EU, "In or Out' referendum.

Here's the story courtesy of the Plymouth Herald:

George Eustice will make the fishing case for Brexit George Eustice will make the fishing case for Brexit

A vote for Brexit would see the UK take back control of fishing waters and secure fairer quotas for Westcountry fleets, the fisheries minister will tell industry members today.

During a visit to Newlyn in Cornwall, Defra minister and Vote Leave supporter George Eustice will look to convince fishermen that a life outside the EU will leave them "better off".

But amid promises of bigger quotas and stronger negotiating powers, he will also drive home his message that Brexit does not mean a "free for all".

The EU is far from popular among members of the fishing industry, who typically regard the Common Fisheries Policy as biased toward their continental counterparts. Some have gone as far as to describe the complex system of quotas, discard bans and mutual access arrangements as "Draconian".

George Eustice (right), Newlyn Harbour Commissioner Kevin Bennets (centre) with fellow Brexiter Derek Thomas

Speaking to the Western Morning News ahead of his Cornwall trip, Mr Eustice agreed that fishermen in the South West get an unfair deal. This, he suggests, is why fishing in particular stands to benefit from a vote to leave.

"At the moment, in the Celtic sea and in the Channel, fishermen don't really get a fair [quota] allocation," he says. "For example, France gets about twice as much plaice as the UK.

"When it comes to haddock and cod, France gets about three of four times more than English fishermen. [But] if we were to leave the EU, we would re-establish control of our waters out to 200 nautical miles, and this would give us a starting point to renegotiate quota allocations for the UK."

The Camborne and Redruth MP arrives in Cornwall just days before a planned protest against EU restrictions on sea bass fishing. Under current rules, introduced earlier this year, anglers face a six month ban on fishing followed by a one-bag catch limit. But commercial fishermen will enjoy a monthly quota of up to 1,300kg – an arrangement campaigners describe as the "privatisation" of stocks.

Mr Eustice accepts that the quota for anglers "isn't a huge amount" and says he plans to negotiate a better deal at the next December council. But he stresses that the regulations are an important step in preserving "precarious" bass stocks, and says the UK secured "the best possible compromise".

"It's important to understand that just because we leave the EU doesn't mean there will just be a free for all," he states. "We're still going to need quotas, because we do want sustainable fisheries and we do want to protect our marine environment.

"[But] if we take back national control we would be able to get a fairer allocation of the international quota [and] hopefully agree mutual access to waters on a fairer basis than we have at the moment."

Responding to the minister's comments, Jim Portus, chief executive of the South Western Fish Producers Organisation, said he was "broadly" in agreement.

He said he would be particularly keen to see Mr Eustice pledge to eradicate "quota hoppers" – foreign vessels that register under the British flag to benefit from UK quotas. "Once and for all, he could improve our coastal and fishing town prospects to great effect," he said.

He also acknowledged that CFP rules have resulted in "burgeoning fish stocks" for ports like Plymouth and Newlyn, and will likely be retained.

"It's not what many... think Brexit would deliver, but George and the next ministers are not going to release the handbrake for a free-for-all ride," he said.

James McGrory, spokesman for the Stronger In campaign, disputed Mr Eustice's claims. He said "vague" promises about maintaining regulation "just don't cut it".

"George Eustice is unable to make a firm proposal as to how he'd make sure there was no such 'free for all'," he said. "Fish do not have passports, they do not recognise territorial limits and a co-ordinated approach across the waters they pass is needed.

"[And] his claim we could 'take control' of our waters for up to 200 nautical miles is laughable because our navy simply isn't able to protect British waters over that kind of area.

"In 2010 there were 1,415 'at sea inspections' of foreign fishing vessels in British waters, but by 2013 there were just 632 - leaving many fishermen to complain that foreign vessels are not inspected enough already."

Story courstey of Kate Langston.

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