Iceland points the way to a successful, sustainable fisheries policy to pursue post-Brexit

Iceland points the way to a successful, sustainable fisheries policy to pursue post-Brexit

The withdrawal of the UK from the EU gives us a unique opportunity to pursue a sensible fisheries policy, one that will conserve fish stocks even while restoring a much-depleted industry.

The key lies in our ability to reclaim our fishing waters, waters we lost when we became members of what was then the European Economic Community and became subject to its Common Fisheries Policy.  What had previously been a 200-mile Economic Exclusion Zone under UN law shrank to only 12 miles as other members of the EEC and later the EU acquired the ability to fish what had been UK controlled waters.  Now 80% of the fish caught in what were once UK waters are caught by foreign vessels.

Those waters have been disastrously over-fished since EU fishing vessels were allowed there.  The EU itself reckons it has many more vessels than can fish sustainably, and acknowledges the need for a 40% reduction.  The EU now reaches deals to send its factory ships to fish in African waters and the Indian Ocean.  Poorly thought-out EU laws mean that much of the fish caught in European waters is dumped back dead into the sea to avoid fines imposed for exceeding quotas. Greenpeace estimates that in some years this has exceeded 50% of all fish caught.

Following Brexit, the Common Fisheries Policy will no longer apply to the UK, and Britain has the chance to implement a sustainable fishing policy of its own.  Some other countries already do this, including New Zealand and Norway, but the outstanding example of a policy success comes from Iceland.

Having seen its fish stocks depleted by over-fishing, Iceland instituted a quota system to restore and sustain them.  Each year its scientists estimate the biomass within Iceland’s waters.  They measure the amount and size of a variety of different species and calculate the quantity of each that can be fished sustainably.  Quotas of different types of fish are assigned to every boat, quotas which belong to the owners and which, crucially, can be traded.

Every catch is recorded, and no dumping is allowed.  All catches must be landed, and if a boat exceeds its quota for a type of fish, its owners must buy quotas from others to stay within the law. All catches and quota trades have to be made public, and are put online so that any vessel can inspect the current state of the market, and decide what and where to catch based on public information.

Iceland’s policy has been a huge success at conserving fish stocks within its waters.  It was a very prominent reason why Iceland withdrew its application to join the EU.  It wanted to be no part of the Common Fisheries Policy, and did not want boats of other EU nations admitted to its waters to plunder its stocks.

It was the Common Fisheries Policy which influenced Greenland to leave the EU.  Originally taken in under Denmark’s membership at the same time as the UK joined in the 1970s, Greenland voted a decade later to use its home rule powers to leave the EU and exercise control over its waters.

The UK decision to join was a disaster for its fishing industries.  Boats were withdrawn to a fraction of their previous numbers, and coastal fishing ports suffered decline as the industry they depended upon shrank to a fraction of its former size.  The jobs that depended on fishing saw a similar decline, and unemployment rose in once prosperous ports.

The UK can now reverse that decline.  When it takes back control of its own waters, it can implement an Icelandic-style sustainability.  The fishing industry will be given a massive boost, as will the fishing ports from which it operates.  There will be no UK losers.  The coastal towns will support this, as will the fishermen themselves, the skippers and the boat owners.

There will undoubtedly be massive support from environmental campaigners as the UK sets about a systematic and scientific restoration of the depleted fish stocks in what are now EU waters, but which will become UK waters once again.  UK consumers and restaurants will welcome a policy that guarantees their fish supply into the foreseeable future.  No-one in the UK will lose out as it pursues a fishing policy that protects its interests.  It is a win-win deal and should be put into effect with all possible speed.