Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Brexit: the end of Breton deep-sea fishing?

This article, by Alain le Sann appears on the Fisheries Development Collective website:

British fishermen want to take advantage of Brexit to reclaim the Exclusive Economic Zones of the seas surrounding their island. Breton fishermen are very worried about it!

Currently only 32% of the catch in their EEZs for UK fishermen 50% of Breton fishing landings come from British waters. The near prospect of nationalization of their EEZ by the British, strongly demanded by their fishermen, therefore legitimately worries all fishing professionals in Brittany and France. 

The British want to withdraw 75% of the fishing quotas that are allocated to fishermen from other countries. We can therefore imagine in the extreme a virtual disappearance of Breton deep-sea fishing with repercussions on coastal fishing which would be increasingly in demand. 

The British fishermen accuse the other countries of the European Union of monopolizing their resources since their adhesion to the Common Fisheries Policy. Indeed, out of an average of 1.6 million tonnes caught each year in UK waters, 68% by weight are caught by foreign vessels, for 54% by value. EU boats are not the only foreign vessels, as there are also agreements allowing Norwegians and Faroese to fish in the UK. 21% of catches are made by the Norwegians, 4% by the Faroese, i.e. in total, approximately 400,000T; in return, Europeans have fishing rights in Norwegian waters. 

British fishermen forget that the CFP and the creation of EEZs, which they resisted, helped drive the Soviets from their waters. For their part, the British only make 100,000 T of catches outside their waters. Access to British waters is therefore vital for the majority of European countries on the Atlantic seaboard. The proportion of British fishermen must undoubtedly be reduced even further if we take into account the many boats under the flag of the United Kingdom which are in fact Dutch or Spanish. The Dutch trawler Cornelis Vrolijk therefore has 23% of the British quotas for pelagic species. In total, British fishermen have only 18% of the quotas in the North Sea, 30% in the Channel, 


The weight of history

Obviously the British accuse the CFP of being responsible for their situation. This is partly correct because, like all fishermen, they have been subjected to the European constraints of reducing fleets and quotas as well as the various political management measures. But the allocation of quotas was made when the United Kingdom entered the European Union and is based on relative stability. 

This distribution was made at the worst moment for the United Kingdom and especially England: when the English industrial fishing collapsed, but Europe had nothing to do with it.On a map of fishing harbors in Great Britain, it can be seen that there are hardly any major fishing harbors left outside of Scotland, Cornwall and the South West. The powerful English fishery collapsed in the late 1970s and 1980s for two reasons. It consisted of two sectors dominated by industrial armaments: cod fishing in Iceland and herring fishing in the North Sea. The closure of Icelandic and then Norwegian waters led to the rapid disappearance of industrial cod fishing, while the herring fishery did not survive the collapse of the resource due to overfishing. 

The disappearance of the English fishery is also due to the industrial structure of the shipping lines, unable to finance a restructuring on close alternative resources, with smaller boats. In Scotland, at the same time, the artisanal structure of the armaments allowed a boom in fishing towards new resources in the North Sea, rather neglected before (Langoustines, haddock, etc.). It is true that Europe has worsened the situation with its liberal policy favoring the capture of quotas by the passage of foreign vessels under the British flag. 

The fishermen tried to impose restrictions but they were not enough to curb the phenomenon. British fishermen have also suffered like others from policies aimed at restoring stocks, but they must now recognize that stocks are generally at a good level or in the process of being restored. The British fleet has also become very profitable, which makes it possible to renew the boats, The situation of British fishing is therefore first and foremost the product of the history before its integration into the European Union. Whether it is the English Channel or the North Sea, before the creation of the EEZs and the common fishing zone, European fishermen moved from one coast to another and this for centuries; there were tensions but they also looked for means to limit them, as between Jersey, Normandy and Brittany. There is also a cohabitation agreement in the Channel between the trailing arts and the dormant arts. The London Convention between European countries signed in 1964 recognized the rights of adjacent countries.

The illusions of British fishermen.

British fishermen are probably deluding themselves that Brexit will allow them to find control over their waters, which they never had. The European Union is firmly committed to preserving fishing rights in British waters. It has an argument for this. The English fish market is small and it has even declined with the fishery itself; the markets are therefore in Europe and particularly in France. Moreover, it is impossible to imagine management of stocks independent of that of the European Union. There will undoubtedly be forceful acts to drive out boats, but in the long term, British fishermen do not weigh heavily against other interests. Environmental ENGOs are powerful in the UK as well as the interests of energy companies (wind and oil).

The UK's marine space is increasingly occupied by wind farms. Finally, the strength of British liberalism is such that forces are already pushing for the generalization of ITQs (Individual Transferable Quotas) to further eliminate fishermen. If that happens, we will see the sale of quotas to foreign vessels.

The state of stocks has improved significantly . There are not enough British fishermen to exploit all their resources, even if Brexit can promote a certain renewal, where the forces exist. The bosses must already have massive recourse to immigrant sailors. 

In Scotland, sailors are more and more often from Asian countries. Finally, what will happen with Scotland? The Scots account for half of the British fishery for 50% of the 11,000 fishermen. Fishing is very dynamic there and the fishermen want Brexit, but there is already talk of a new referendum on Scottish independence, strongly supported by the European Union. What will then weigh the last English fishermen in a country where a minister of fisheries also declared himself as the minister of amateur fishermen, more numerous and more influential politically and economically?

Territories versus Markets.

In 1999, Christian Lequenne wrote in a Sciences Po review: “Contrary to popular belief, the 270,000 fishermen in the European Union do not go to sea with a strictly individualistic representation of their professional activity. On the contrary, they exercise their profession with the feeling of belonging to professional communities anchored in territories, a State, a port, a maritime region ” [ 1 ]. This territorial logic is widely challenged by European policy which tends to favor the market by promoting the capture of quotas by foreign vessels changing flag, in the name of the free movement of capital. Brexit is also a reaction against this practice and should be an opportunity to move towards a new management logic, that of maritime territories where fishery resources are a common good managed democratically. 

There are already elements of such practices between fishermen who often oppose but also know how to find compromises to adapt to realities and allow changes. The model is that of the management of the Bay of Granville, managed by fishermen from Jersey, Brittany and Normandy. There is no doubt that moving to the management of larger units such as the Celtic Sea, the English Channel or the North Sea requires long negotiations and considerable resources. Milestones have already been laid, but under the control of ENGO; the WWF thus piloted a draft management plan for the Celtic Sea, while the Environmental Defense Fund intervened in discussions on the management of the scallop in Normandy and in the English Channel. 

If ENGOs can play their role of protecting biodiversity and the environment, it is not their mandate to take over fisheries management with the financial support of the European Union. Rather, its role should be to promote relations and discussions between fishermen by strengthening the role of the Advisory Committees to give them the mission of managing maritime territories with the responsibility of good management. The NFFO, the organization of English fishermen, expressed the desire to modify management approaches by developing territorial management approaches by rotating fishing and fallow areas. There are therefore bases to get out of a politicized and biased debate on a return of the British to a control of their waters which never existed. 

There are political postures in this debate in Great Britain that have nothing to do with history or realities. The debate must be refocused on the role of fishermen in collective management because, very quickly, Brexit will give way in the United Kingdom as in the European Union to a discourse on blue growth. The future of fishermen is the least of the concerns of the majority of politicians because their interest in the sea mainly concerns other much more promising activities.

Translated by Google:

Thursday April 27, 2017, by LE SANN Alain Fisheries and Development Bulletin n ° 140, May 2017