Monday, 20 February 2017

Fishing for Failure

Fishing was Ted Heath's greatest failure when he took Britain into the Common Market. Before negotiating with the three most powerful fishing states, Britain, Norway and Denmark the existing members saw their chance to take over more prolific waters and  cobbled together a Common Fisheries policy weeks before negotiations began just to do that. 

It was no more than the simple principle of equal access to a common resource Norway refused to fall into the trap but Ted Heath, desperate  for entry, regarded fishing as disposable and didn't even try to change a policy which was still malleable. He accepted it with only a ten year derogation before European fleets could fish right up to our beaches This ensured that Britain was unable to follow the world trend by taking its own exclusive waters and when it was forced out of Iceland the British fishing industry couldn't be rebuilt within our own limits

The result was the decimation of the English industry given only a three mile exclusive limit while Scotland was better protected by a 12 mile limit for a"North Britain" (which didn't include Yorkshire). The result was a conservation crisis caused by over  fishing in the wider waters where British vessels had traditionally fished. The lesson was clear. Only the nation state can maintain conservation  to hand sustainable stocks onto the next generations. Every nation outside the EU was doing that. We couldn't because Common access means paper quotas to allow everyone to grab their share. EU vessels crowded in, their fleets rebuilt and modernised with EU money not available in Britain because the government refused to put up the match funding. It wanted to decommission the fleet.

It's no wonder that the fishing ports and the shrunken British industry, rallied for Brexit.They see fishing as the forefront of the fight to take back control. No wonder either that the other EU members including, even those which are landlocked will fight  to protect their access to our fish.

It will  be difficult. British limits extend to 200 miles only to the North and west .Elsewhere the median line will be fifty miles or less. A bigger fishery protection effort will be necessary. Infringements will have to be dealt with though there is no need for any cod war. Only national control can rebuild the fishing industry with all its ancillaries in marketing, engineering and processing. The argument that we will need mutual arrangements to encourage conservation is specious in the light of the damage the CFP has already done to conservation. So is the argument that our fish exports will be damaged. In fact they will increase if other countries aren't able to catch our fish for us.

The best precedent is Greenland It got a clean break on leaving the EU and abolished all historic rights and now lives by fishing though it gives controlled access to others Or take the example of New Zealand which charges for access. With national waters we can stop French vessels  destroying the pots of Yorkshire shell fishermen,stop French depredations on Sea Bass, Spanish registrations as British to catch our quota and ship it to Spain or the farce of one Dutch vessel taking a third of the British quota. 

Once we manage our own sustainable quotas we can agree reciprocal catches with other fishing nations such as Norway and Iceland or even allow limited access to others paying charges. If the EU is prepared  pay for EU vessels to loot the waters of third parties, it can pay for controlled access to ours.

Fishing may be difficult case but it's crucial and should not be sacrificed again for other objectives, as it has been. It's the worst EU failure and offers the best prospect of benefits if we take back control. The government may want to delay the issue but it should  establish the principle of national control first then decide the details later. Brexit won't be real without our own waters to manage. For their good and ours. 

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