Friday, 4 October 2019

Margiris - one of the largest fishing vessels in the world making waves off the Isle of Wight

The freezer trawler Margiris hauling her net.

With the emotionally charged slogan 'take back control' designed to appeal to nationalist sensibilities fishing suddenly became a key feature of the Governemnt's Brexit campaign. With that campaign slogan now very much embedded in day-to-day Brexit debate and very much on people's lips the media today is awash with local, regional and national news coverage of the Dutch owned, Lithuanian registered trawler Margiris fishing just off the beaches of Brighton on the south coast. At 142 metres she is one of the world's largest trawlers, and can carry 6200 tonnes of fish. Her net is 600m long, the mouth her giant trawl is approx 100m x 200m. She is one of many vessels that operate in UK and EU waters

At first sight, the vessel's actions serve to justify the arguments for leaving the EU - a foreign (Dutch) super-trawler fishing right alongside the 12 mile UK fishing limit in the English Channel...

Exclusive Economic Zone of the UK and neighbouring EU states.
where, as the coast of France is significantly less than the 200 mile limit (EEZ) and therefore defaults to the median line (as in the chart above).

Just a small sample of Twitter comments reveal how easy it is for the population at large to become enraged at such an apparent blatant pillaging of 'our' waters. However the UK leaves the EU it is primarily laws enacted through the United Nations (UNCLOS) and other conventions that would govern access to UK waters for EU and other vessels, not those of the EU. Fish subject to quotas as a part of the CFP (like the mackerel she is fishing for) are set overall by ICES, not the EU. The UK and other member states divvy up quota between them nationally based on track records going back decades - and then each member state administers quota via Fish Producer Organisations and Defra/MMO. To further complicate matters much of the mackerel quota is now owned by non-UK businesses - infamously the Dutch freezer trawler company owned Cornelius Vrolijk owns and fishes for 23% of the UK mackerel quota - quota that the UK government of the day decided (unlike almost every other EU member state) to allow the UK fishing industry to sell to whomever it wished - so much so that around 50% of UK quota's fish is now in 'foreign' hands.  As it stands that means that 'we' won't be able to 'take back control of 'our' fish.  This recent post includes a summary of those legislative process by by Charles Hattersley neatly sums up the complexity of the situation that we will found ourselves in after leaving the EU..

The story doesn't end there:

In the last few weeks the Margiris  has traveled from the Arctic Circle down to the west coast of Africa and back up to the southern English coast...

where her and another Parlevliet company ship the Annie Hillina have been mid-water trawling this week - primarily for mackerel...

the scale of their fishing operations can be seen from this close-up of their AIS tracks in the area.

Watch a special report from ITN news' Rupert Evelyn which has exclusive footage of the super-trawler fishing a few miles outisde the UK 12 mile limit. Although MMO inspectors are said to have reported no infringements it is hard to imagine that these vessels do not from time to time see fish like bass in their huge trawls. There's an online story from ITN News covering the fishing operations here:

The UK pioneered the development of of stern freezer trawlers in the 1960s/70s to replace the old distant water 'sidewinders' that worked from Hull and Grimsby. In the late 1970s most of those vessels were deployed to south western waters off Cornwall to fish for mackerel in the winter...

Freezer trawler fishing among a fleet of mackerel handline boats.

Even then, some of these boats were the subject of some controversy when they fished among the fleet of tiny handliners (average length 10 meters)

The boats fished by night and either froze their catches aboard during the day or transhipped them to Russian and Eastern Block factory ships in Mounts Bay and Falmouth bay during the day.

Kirkella - the UK's largest freezer trawler launched last year - and is run by UK Fishing - which sounds like a UK company until you come to find out that it was created and owned by Netherlands' Parlevliet and Van der Plas and Iceland's Samherji after they bought out J Marr Fishing and the Boyd Line, both previously Hull deep-sea fishing companies.  

The Kirkella is currently fishing for cod, haddock, ling and Atlantic halibut some 2000 miles north of Brighton off the south coast of Svalbard and is capable of carrying 700 tons of fish fillets. 

She is there as a result of complex fishing agreements between the main stakeholders Russia, Norway and third parties like the Faroe Islands and EU...

The Kirkella, along with many other vessels has been fishing just outside the 12 mile limit off SvalbardNorwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.