WHEN I watched the fishing debate televised from the House of Commons last Tuesday for the Second Reading of the Fisheries Bill, I was delighted to see many backbench MPs contributing and I was impressed by the level of knowledge shown, except the SNP Fisheries spokesperson who was out of her depth trying to defend the indefensible. The knowledge is the result of more than three decades of intense work, and more recently from such blogs as The Conservative Woman, which has given the subject of fisheries prominence.
The Bill in itself is not bad, preparing for January 1, 2021. Of course we don’t know the outcome of the continuing EU/UK negotiations, but at least the groundwork is being prepared, and it was encouraging to witness constructive opposition coming from Labour.
For me, there was one disappointment within all the good of the Bill. That was Labour’s amendment, clause 18, which had passed through the House of Lords. The amendment was to ensure that two-thirds of resource caught in UK waters should be landed in UK. Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard said: ‘Britain should benefit from that fish in terms of jobs and trade. I want to back our British ports to create more jobs and land more fish in Britain.’
Environment Secretary George Eustice MP, who is quietly getting on with doing a good job, said: ‘We owe it to our fishermen and coastal communities to help them to benefit further from the fish caught and landed in UK waters as we take back control. We will therefore seek to overturn clause 18, which is unnecessary in light of the national benefit objective already set out in clause 1 and which reduces the flexibility we currently have in using licence conditions to implement an economic link.’ The clause was overturned.
I hope this matter is sorted out during the next committee stage, starting this week, as an economic link must be established, because the Secretary of State continued: ‘It is important that we do not inadvertently deny fishermen the ability to sell their fish at the best possible price by requiring them to land everything in the UK.’
This has been my worry for a considerable time. Fishermen are the custodians, not the owners, of the resource which by international law belongs to the nation – the British people – and there is an obligation to use the resource to benefit as many as possible, to bring life back into coastal communities. That is not going to happen if the resource is landed and processed elsewhere.
I appreciate there will be those in the fishing industry who never want any control over where to land the catch, because they can make more profit by being free of such an obligation.
You have to look back at the direction and progress over the last 30 or so years of campaigning to get out of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). It has all been about the nation’s resource which was given away as part of the membership joining rules of the then EEC, now EU, instigated mainly by the cherry-picking of the French, through Regulation 2141/70 of October 20, 1970. This created the principle of equal access, where our people’s resource had to be handed to the EU for all EU members to have an equal slice.
As the campaign developed, especially during John Major’s time as Prime Minister, certain sectors of the fishing industry became totally and bitterly opposed to the UK leaving the CFP and taking back national control of our nation’s two fishing zones, viz our territorial waters out to 12 nautical miles, and our Exclusive Economic Zone of 12 nautical miles out to 200, or the median line where two nations are less than 400 nautical miles apart.
The industry was split, with those opposed to leaving the CFP supported by successive Governments, which argued that it was best to stay in and reform it from within, and that it was nonsense to campaign to leave the CFP as it would never happen. On the other side were the smaller guys, not in stature, but vessel size and wealth, the family-run businesses, who supported the Save Britain’s Fish campaign (SBF) and the Fishermen’s Association Ltd, a trade organisation whose main purpose was to support the objectives of SBF.
It was the SBF campaign that brought in the coastal communities equation. The reason was that if you are an inland local authority, your land area is 360 degrees around, whereas a coastal authority usually has only 180 degrees, so if you don’t use the resource from the other 180 degrees – the sea – you are going to be disadvantaged.
I admit such a two-thirds landing clause would initially cause inconvenience and less profit, but there is no advantage to the coastal community if the resource never sees the UK and goes elsewhere, all to make a few individuals wealthier.
Often in the comment section the challenge goes out as to what are the advantages of leaving the EU. The answer for fisheries is that control of the living marine resource, which was given away in order to be a member of the EU, is returned now that the UK is no longer a member. This should benefit mainly the coastal communities, whose present decline can be linked directly to the CFP, and the very reason why the EU want the UK as a non-member (third country status) to continue obeying the CFP rules.