The Government must commit to taking back control of Britain’s fisheries

The Government must commit to taking back control of Britain’s fisheries

With Brexit comes a golden opportunity. If we act quickly we can repatriate one of our nation’s greatest renewable resources, revitalise a critical industry and boost our nation’s food security. But there is a grave danger that it will be sacrificed a second time: squandered on vested interest or wasted because of political convenience to appease the EU.

Fishing for Leave recently launched a comprehensive 144-page fishing policy document in Westminster with Owen Paterson and Nigel Farage and delivered it to Downing Street and DEFRA. It details both the constitutional extrication of the UK and a fit-for-purpose future policy – policy to implement upon leaving to manage our fisheries and rejuvenate the industry and coastal communities.

Data commissioned by Fishing for Leave using EU figures shows the huge level of resources the EU has been catching in UK waters – and hence the fair share of the internationally agreed Total Allowable Catches (TAC) the UK will have after we leave the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) behind.

Because the then Government embraced the idea of “equal access to a common resource” in 1973, the rest of the EU now has 75% of the TACs, despite the UK having 48% of the seas. It also shows that the EU catches 59% of the fish in UK waters, which is worth around £711 million. The UK catches 15% of its fish in EU waters while the EU catches a whopping 54% in UK waters.

Put simply, the majority of EU fish are caught in Britain.

Using UK Government data we have shown that, if we take back control of our resources, fishing could be worth £6.3bn (net to plate) and tens of thousands of jobs to the UK every year. That is without counting ancillary industries and jobs.

Upon joining the EEC, the Government gave away our fisheries resources and colossal seas, which at 732,470 km² are three times the size of our land mass. Our Treaty of Accession abjectly betrayed UK fishing by accepting the embryonic CFP upon joining in 1973, with Edward Heath famously regarding British fishing resources as “expendable” in his desperation to join.

As fisheries were an exclusive EU competency from the start, the CFP has been constructed entirely of regulations which are direct EU law. However, this is significant because it means the UK can automatically be free of the disastrous CFP when we leave. Section 3 of Article 50, due due to be triggered next week, clearly states that upon withdrawal: “the treaties shall cease to apply”. This is significant to the whole process, as it means the UK will no longer be bound by EU law after Brexit.

All control and responsibility will subsequently return to Westminster, as the UK reverts to international law and domestic legislation. This will give the UK a clean slate on withdrawal, leaving the EU no rights, whether under international treaty law or the Vienna Convention on Treaties, to claim continuity of rights. That is because, through the treaties, it is the EU themselves that have agreed to end the CFP.

Fishing for Leave is campaigning vociferously to make sure fishing and Brexit are not betrayed by the Great “Repeal” Bill. This Bill risks entirely negating the clean exit afforded by Article 50. It proposes to transpose the Acquis Communautaire (the body of all EU law) onto the UK statute book. This would amount to little more than a betrayal of Brexit, as transposing all EU law would essentially cancel the “treaties shall cease to apply” clause enshrined in the EU treaties.

As a result, we will throw away our best card. The UK will have adopted the terms of the CFP at its own behest. Having re-adopted EU laws, the EU will be able to argue under international treaty law that the UK is still bound to honour them. This would see the Government starting from the status quo, with the continuation of the disastrous CFP allowing the EU the rights to continue to fish in UK waters, and hence still catch the majority of our fish.

If the Government really means to scrap the CFP immediately, then why run the risk of getting into a protracted battle?

However, this is not the only agreement allowing rights for European vessels to UK waters – there also exists the 1964 London Fisheries Convention, granting access between 6 and 12 miles from our shores. As this Convention would still apply upon withdrawal it would give backdoor access to UK waters after Brexit to this narrow strip of water. To secure the diplomatically strong hand of all control over our fisheries, this Convention must be scrapped by giving the two years notice required to do so before Article 50 is triggered.

Worryingly the UK Government has made no commitment, instead offering only nice platitudes. If the Government is not prepared to reconsider the London Fisheries Convention as quickly as possible to close this back door, this would be showing a highly concerning lack of commitment to Brexit. We strongly urge them to denounce the London Convention immediately and give written assurances that the fisheries chapters of the Acquis Communautaire will not be adopted with the Great “Repeal” Bill.

If these two things are secured, the UK will finally be free to implement environmentally and economically fit-for-purpose UK policy to rejuvenate coastal communities devastated by the CFP. But not doing so would squander the golden opportunity to start afresh with a UK fisheries policy, giving a worrying signal that the Government is all mouth and no trousers when it comes to fishing.

We have this wonderful opportunity to free ourselves of the CFP and right a grievous wrong. For little political or financial capital we can rebuild a once great industry and rejuvenate coastal communities with the repatriation of the billions’ worth of our own resources. We can end EU quotas that force fishermen to discard hundreds of thousands of tons of quality fish – quotas which limit fishermen to certain species cannot work in the UK’s rich mixed fisheries where fishermen catch a mix of species. Walking away from the CFP would also allow us to implement a ‘Days-at-Sea’ system, allowing boats to catch less fish but land more with no discards, also providing more accurate information for scientists.

Taking back control our fishing waters will be an ‘acid test’ of Brexit. Doing so will be a beacon of success for the Government, but it is imperative that their efforts start immediately.

You can write to your MP using a Fishing for Leave template letter here