Wednesday, December 1, 2021
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Fishing: Hope on hold yet again

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ANYONE running a business, however large or small, prefers to operate under conditions of stability, confidence and clarity of present and future direction. What you don’t want is uncertainty. The catching sector of the British people’s living marine resource has suffered terribly from two hammer blows, 1973 and now.

Every business is under huge pressure due to Covid-19, which has come on top of the drawn-out affair of our membership of the EU. For many who feared ruin because of Brexit, the pathway ahead has become clearer, but it has been paid for by UK fishermen, who are now told to wait a further five and a half years.

Over the past decade I have described the way our fishermen have been treated by the political establishment as placing a light of hope down a long tunnel, only for it to retreat further into the tunnel.

The House of Commons debate, with one day to go, to pass the EU (Future Relationship) Bill went through the motions, but at least the Labour MP for Hartlepool, Mike Hill, stated fishing was the biggest sector sold out by the deal and that the Government promised UK fishermen a better deal than the one they got. He said: ‘As the chair of the all-party group on coastal communities, I have to say and emphasise that coastal communities are the poorest relations in our island nation, whether based on fishing, industrial regions or hospitality and leisure.’

The Prime Minister stated: ‘In five and a half years, the UK’s share of our fish in our waters will rise from over half today, to around two-thirds. Of course we would like to have done that more quickly, but it is also true that once the adjustment period comes to an end there will be no limit, other than limits that are placed by the needs of science and conservation, on our ability to make use of our marine wealth.’

The SNP MP for Glasgow East, David Linden, said: ‘On fish, the PM is waxing lyrical about how amazing this deal is, but I would like to read him a quote from Andrew Locker, chair of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, who says: “I am angry, disappointed and betrayed. Boris Johnson promised us the rights to all the fish that swim in our exclusive economic zone and we have got a fraction of that.” Is he wrong?

The PM replied: ‘I am afraid that yes, he is. We will take back control not only by becoming an independent coastal state from 1 January, but in five and a half years’ time, we will be able to fish every single fish in our waters, if we so choose. That is the reality.’

So the light of hope is now shining further down the tunnel. In five years’ time will it have retreated again?

The PM has said there will be no limit, other than limits that are placed by the needs of science and conservation, on our ability to make use of our marine wealth and we will be able to fish every single fish in our waters, if we so choose.

Would you as a young person choose this industry, considering the track record of past broken political assurances? We have already lost four and a half years, so in five years where will we be?

This is where we should be in five years;

a) A new management system, tried, tested and proved superior to present along with improved scientific information gathering;

b) Coastal communities starting to see an improvement, from harbour traffic, small business services, tourism;

c) A well-thought-out recreational fishing plan;

d) Improved communications and distribution;

e) Profit being recirculated locally;

f) Improved employment.

While we are legally in control of our territorial water, and EEZ, in practice we are not with no guarantee we will be in 2026 either, as it is down to negotiation and reviews.

I am disappointed as again the catching sector has paid the price, but one must not be despondent – we are no longer a member of the EU, not even classed as “third country status” being covered by the agreement Page 276 (o).

However my big worry is how our side will manage with the transitional period and beyond, operating through forums, partnership councils, committees, especially the specialised committee under joint chairmanship, even down to what qualification one has to be on such committees. One never knows whether our representative is truly onside. The agreement has put the ball firmly in the British court. We need someone in charge who is enthusiastic, determined, gets on with the job with confidence. If we get someone who just goes with the flow, we will end up back in a semi-joint CFP of our own making.

We have a delayed opportunity to make a success of the position we are in. Can we? I worry.

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John Ashworth
John Ashworth has worked all his life in the Fishing Industry, as a gear designer and manufacturer. He spent 20 years working on fishing vessels around the world, and promoted environmental issues, He led the Save Britain's Fish campaign through the nineties and early twenties and is now part of Fishing for Leave.

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