With the South West home to two of the three largest fish landing ports in England and Wales, this week I spoke on the radio about EU fisheries policies and how they ensure long term sustainability for the industry, both in terms of fish stocks and jobs for our region.
For a while now, Brexiteers have been manipulating the concerns of those in the fishing industry and misleadingly championing the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) as a reason to abandon the EU and “take back control” of our waters. Aside from the obvious fact that fish do not respect the borders of national waters (which means even Norway has to negotiate fishing quotas with the EU), let’s look at what these fishing policies mean in practical terms for fishermen: how fishing quotas are really allocated, and why these demonstrate that if anything, fisheries policies are a great reason to remain.
Part of the misleading tactics rightly focuses on the fact that, despite the UK fishing fleet being made up primarily of small inshore fishing vessels, just a tiny amount of the UK fishing quota (~6%) is shared between them. However, what they fail to mention is that whilst each Member State negotiates a national quota, the dividing up of these allocated national quotas is decided by the Member States, not the EU. It was George Eustice himself and the Conservative government that chose last year to give just one vessel nearly a quarter of the English quota, not the EU. In fact, some member states already even use the allocation method for dividing their quota called for by some Brexiteers.
The CFP, and the negotiations of national quotas called Total Allowable Catch (TACs), are based around scientific data that show the maximum sustainable yields based on current fish stocks. It’s true that before serious reform in 2013, the CFP was destructive to fish stocks in European waters, with scientists and NGOs rightly raising concerns over the unsustainable practices it facilitated. However a recent analysis of 118 years of statistics revealed the vast majority of the decline occurred prior to the Common Fisheries Policy’s implementation in 1983. In fact, the policy is now overall helping, not harming UK fisheries and would be doing even better if member states didn’t repeatedly ignore scientific advice when allocating TACs, with the UK being one of the worst.
The health of our marine ecosystems depends upon them being protected, and today EU policies seek to do exactly that. The much revered Habitats Directive protects key habitats and species like the Atlantic salmon, and the Water and Marine Strategy Framework Directives commit EU Member States to restore and protect their marine environments. There’s also the successful discard ban that fishermen wanted and the UK fought for. This was a campaign that you won’t have heard about from Nigel Farage despite him sitting on the European Parliament fisheries committee, but from people like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and it’s success demonstrated how people pressure really can change EU policy for the better.
In summary, fish don’t respect borders and collaborative managing of fish stocks is essential for the fishing industry, as much as it is for the environment, in the long term. We’ve come a long way since the days of mass overfishing and illegal fishing, and as a result UK quotas are even on the up. George Eustice himself said not so long ago, “By fighting for the fishing industry, and making a clear case for the need for more sustainable fishing, we have got a good deal and shown we can get what we need in Europe.”
So why would we want to jump ship now?
See our EU and Fisheries Briefing for more.