Thursday, 5 May 2016

Stay or go? Our fishing rights.

Newlyn trawlerman, Mike Mahon was a staunch Ukip member and anit-Brussels campaigner - but would he still have the confidence for Britain to take on singlehanded the rest of the world to re-negotiate fishing rights as the present fisheries minsiter would have us believe he is in a position to do so?

Constantly, on TV and the radio members of the public say the same thing in response to the debate on whether to stay or leave the EU, "we want the facts"!

Skipper David Stevens has made an impassioned plea to fishermen on his blog - hugely frustrated by the present predicament he finds himself in with a brand new vessel to pay for from the waters off Cornwall.

With regard to the fishing industry an interesting picture is developing. Not only is local MP for the west of Cornwall in favour of leaving the EU but so is the Fisheries Minister, George Eustace! Both have been doing the rounds of late drumming up support for the 'leave' campaign in fishing communities - as far as Newlyn in the south and Peterhead in the north of Scotland. Of course, many fishermen are in favour of leaving the EU because they feel (ever since Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath bargained away part of the industry when we joined the then EEC) that the UK has lost out - in terms of access to fish and quotas by other member states and in particular France and Spain and in terms of the horrendous consequences of a quota system that has seen thousands of tons of good fish being dumped.  Both MPs have spoken at length and with great enthusiasm to fishermen about the prospect of exiting the EU and what it would mean for them. At the heart of their speeches in a call to exit are the words fishermen the length and breadth of the UK want to hear, namely that on the subject of fishing limits they will start from scratch and re-negotiate access and quotas. Sounds fantastic and certainly this is just what fishermen want to hear - but then they wouldn't be politicians if they didn't tell people what they want to hear!

But what exactly does 'starting from scratch mean'?  That we can re-negotiate quotas for fish stocks from within our 200 mile limit? But wait, wasn't the 200-mile limit put in place after we joined the EU? If we come out of the EU we will have to go back to our very own 12 mile limit (as per all the countries who signed the Convention on Conduct of Fishing Operations in the North Atlantic in 1967.
The seventeen countries who signed the agreement in 1967 - and the current legally binding convention that applies to all our and their waters - outside 12 miles - with a few historic execptions.

The convention means that we have control over our own territorial waters up to 12 miles - and we have Iceland to thank for such an arrangement because, ironically, the 12 mile agreement was put in place after a certain country (errm Britain) regularly sent a huge fleet of distant water trawlers to fish up to 4 miles off the coast of Iceland - the history of the subsequent 'Cod Wars' as they became known can be read here.

Move forward to 1976 and British fishermen were desperate to gain a 50-mile exclusive zone around the UK - in the end, a 200 mile fishing zone was agreed - as a result of being a member of the EU!

This European Fishing Zone gave security to British fishermen, particularly, because it enabled us to keep out the Spanish and impose the first limitations and a decrease of the fishing effort. For the record, Spain lost 50% of their rights and never succeeded in recovering them under the Spanish Flag. Between 1976 and 1980, the UK did not take advantage and did not increase their fishing effort on the common grounds, because the main UK fishing money was struggling with the Icelandic issue and preferred to convert their Icelandic failure into mackerel fishing in the North Sea rather than looking to invest in the South West.

Then came the pre-CFP phase with the negotiation of rules of 'relative stability'. UK had little anteriority in South West grounds, only the current Newlyn/Brixham, Plymouth activities. In the 1970s there were several hundred French (mainly Breton) trawlers fishing for white fish and langoustine in the Western Approaches and to the west of the Scillys. Newlyn supported a small fleet of longliners and a handful of trawlers at the time - maybe 30 in total - Milford Haven an even smaller number. It was the UK that opened wide its merchant fleet registry to allow Spanish owned boats to fish. Ironically, thanks to the UK-flagged-Spanish-owned boats the UK now has a better share than it should. The 1989 revision of the registry could be seen as an attempt to close a loophole. But it could also be seen as an attempt to send back home Spanish boats and keeping their access by not relating to the rules of 'relative stability'.

In any discussion over re-negotiating a share of the available fish stocks outside 12 miles (which is what we would have to do as per the 1967 London Convention) we might be expected to take into account the number of vessels engaged in fishing well outside 12 miles. In the 1970s there were several hundred French (mainly Breton) trawlers fishing for white fish and langoustine in the Western Approaches and to the west of the Scillys (aside from the Belgian and Dutch). At that time, Newlyn supported a small fleet of longliners and a handful of trawlers - maybe 30 in total - Milford Haven an even smaller number. Move forward to today, and aside from around 30 beam trawlers, Newlyn has 1 trawler over 18m fishing the same waters. Not the strongest position to start arguing for a larger share of the available fish as promised by MPs Eustace and Thomas.

So, the facts are and the truth is, in regards to fishing rights, what Britain has to be prepared to do once out of the EU is to start a legal battle to prove that it has the historic legitimacy to claim that the fish outside of the 12 miles is ours - when it only became ours thanks to the power of the European Fishing Zone! - and is therefore actually not ours, but a shared property.  Given the might of the fleets and willingness of the nations remaining within the EU is it realistic to suppose we would or could be better off than we are now?  Odysseus and a few soldiers defeated the might of the Trojan army from within - just one of many historical examples of small defeating big by guile not by force.

So, is this just rhetoric in view of the above?

"The UK outside the CFP would regain control of its extensive fisheries, and end the decline in landings (see Figure 14.viii). How it chose to manage stocks would be a matter of national debate, along with the duration of the transitional period to be allowed for foreign vessels currently in national waters. This variable, along with the quota-equivalent to be assigned, provides the UK with a strong lever in renegotiating other aspects of the Treaties – providing fisheries patrol vessels are prepared to enforce it, and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is prepared to fine and completely ban those caught transgressing". Page 454 of the Business for Britain website's document on the fishing industry.
Having got us into the EU partly through selling out over the fishing industry the each successive Conservative government has always been strong on words in what it might/would/wants for the fishing industry - this was at the heart of the Green Paper that Shadow Fisheries Minister Owen Patterson put together in 2005.

So, if it is a vote for out then let's look at one fish certain to cause quota problems - mackerel. I can see a lot of trouble to negotiate with Iceland, Faroe, Norway and future EU for the mackerel quotas - which will heavily impact the small scale fishermen (remember the last time when handliners received a special exemption? Just have a look what happen now in Galicia - our MPs promise they will defend Britain fishing rights - but what can they do against Dutch and then there's Norwegian oil? Britain will be alone in front of all this too....and will have to fight against Parleviet and his Dutch friends - mackerel could become a nightmare!

Overall, unless Britain would also decide to un-ratify an agreement already ratified (which even Putin's Russia has not tried), the shared stock agreement of UNCLOS, Britain will still be within a CFP-like system for the constraints only - eg a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation. Fishermen complain because the EU does not put the fishing industry at the core of internal EU negotiations? They think Britain alone will not have to balance with £ vs € agreements for example? What will be the internal impact of 1 or even 20 trawlers with foreign crews on them? That means fishermen will need to present a strong case to the the British public that they (the fishermen) are very important, bearing in mind all the environmental groups (WWF, Greenpeace et al) will easily make a comeback over MCZs and an increase of fishing mortality - against us without the support from the rest of the European fishing industry!

For sure it is difficult to back the CFP (because the CFP may have succeed in science but failed on the second goal of fisheries management - the political side where you have to precisely arbitrate to whom you give the fish - Britain, as the others liberal states, decided that the market would arbitrate for them thanks to FQA).

BTW - Under 10m boats have no quota? - the allocation of fish to smaller boats is a decision down to the minister, George Eustace via the MMO - not the EU's decison.

British fishermen will be very alone if we exit the EU, especially because in one negociation with Norway & Iceland and the rest of EU we have counted for little in the past!

Also see ex-fisheries minsuter, Richard Benyon's article in the Fishing News for his take on George Eustace's misplaced optimism.

Just a brief look at the history of just one fishery makes a for good read - in this instance the significantly diverse history of that best know British outcrop, Rockall - a lesson in just how many nations have participated in fishing throughout the millennia.

Perhaps local MP Derek Thomas would care to elaborate in a reply to the arguments above for the benefit of Cornish fishermen? Write and ask him - I have tried, twice and as yet have not received a reply :-(