Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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This wonderful opportunity to seize back our waters


THERE are three issues that get my hackles up over the EU/UK fishing issue: quota, treatment of fishermen and the pyramid of life.

Quota: I would rather not see or hear that word ever again. It is the tool of EU integration, the method that is used to bring about the treaty obligations of being a member of the EU through the equal access principle.

When a stock of an individual species of fish abides over two or more nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), the scientific fraternity give their annual opinion of the tonnage of that stock that may be taken the following year, the Total Allowable Catch (TAC), which is by agreement divided up as a percentage to the nations involved. It is then, especially by the EU, turned into quota, because the EU has to subdivide the tonnage allocated to the EU to the various EU member states. If there is a no deal, the EU will have to re-calculate these figures, and I presume Ireland will be the loser. When a nation is an EU member, it is no longer that nation’s fishing waters, but EU waters, so when the agreed percentage of TAC is handed to EU waters in tonnage, it becomes EU quota, not that of the member state.

You often hear: ‘The EU will have to agree a larger quota share for the UK and give up its demand that in effect nothing will change.’

What quota? There isn’t such a thing, other than EU quota, and they are certainly not going to give the UK any of that. It is no longer the prerogative of the EU to give away what they haven’t got; what they really mean is they want a proportion of the TAC tonnage allocated to UK waters. The word quota is confusing the issue.

A fisheries management under the quota system brings immediate severe problems, especially as the British government allowed a monetary value to be placed on the UK allocation of EU quota. Over time this resulted in just a few operators within the EU and UK owning a large proportion of the UK allocation.

The EU quota system has made entry of young people into the industry very difficult, and the stress has made fathers persuade their sons not to follow them. A young fisherman becomes beholden to what is known as a ‘Slipper Skipper’, a person who sits at home and rents out quota, making more income than the operator.

Quota creates discarding. It becomes a man-made target which does not fit kindly to what nature provides. Quota creates a rigid system whereas you require maximum flexibility. It creates a system whereby however much a fisherman conserves, he does not reap the benefit.

Treatment of fishermen: I am not a fisherman, but a gear designer always pushing an environmental perspective, having put in considerable sea time in about 14 different nations’ vessels. Mostly, I have been treated as a fisherman, with deep suspicion, not to be trusted. The political big-wigs, who created their beloved Common Fisheries Policy for political reasons, with EU vessels fishing for one EU resource, have turned fishermen into criminals in order to survive, which is another reason why fathers recommend their sons to not go into fishing. As many backbench MPs have stated in Parliament over the years, the CFP is an environmental and social disaster, resulting in a ‘them and us’ attitude between catcher, legislator, scientist and enforcer.

There is no doubt in my mind that the best gatherers of scientific evidence are fishermen themselves, as custodians of the resource. The technology to do this is available, and is not expensive. Sensors can be tagged on to all types of fishing gear, automatically transmitting time in water and location, and enabling fishermen to send data on catch, size, feeding habits, and any other data required to a central point. This important information could be updated every 24 hours. Instead cameras on board are often demanded because authority doesn’t trust fishermen.

EU vessels will be allowed into UK waters in some form or other, as there will be reciprocal arrangements. If these EU vessels come under the above system, the UK would know exactly what they are up to.

Pyramid of life: Humans are interested in harvesting the top of the pyramid. I feel the most important part of the pyramid is the base, the start of the food chain. Without a strong base the top is going nowhere. Evidence of this has happened several times when various sand eel stocks have been overfished.

It is strange that those who go for quota management don’t appear to accept the pyramid of life, and will bring draconian measures in to try and increase the level of harvestable species while ignoring what are they going to eat. Does mankind think the marine resource can increase in size and quantity without food? It appears so. If food is not there the larger species will eat their own and others’ young.  

Such a wonderful opportunity awaits the UK by having back control of our territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone. We can lead the world, be environmentally the best, and rejuvenate our coastal communities. We can’t afford to fail. 

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John Ashworth
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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