Should we keep UK waters for UK fishermen post-Brexit?
We don’t currently have enough British fishermen to harvest all the fish that we have in our waters. It’s possible that we could rebuild our industry, but it might take a decade or more of massive investment in the fleet and fishermen. It may be that Brexit does create a more attractive market in which vessel operators are encouraged to invest, but in the meantime we need to ensure the continued smooth operation of the industry and the supply of fish to consumers in the short and medium term.
What about UK control for UK waters?
Absolutely. EU quotas for UK fisheries could be redistributed to UK fishermen in the first instance and the rest (since we don’t have the capacity to fish them ourselves) could be auctioned. But it remains likely that the EU will remain a significant fishing presence in our waters.
Should we sever the link between trade agreements and quotas/access?
This sounds like a good idea, but the fact is that UK consumers love fish that is caught outside our own waters – like the haddock and cod that come from 1,000 miles away in the Barents Sea. On the other hand, the fish and shellfish that British fishermen catch in our own waters are mainly exported to overseas markets – mostly the EU, which loves our langoustine and lobster. So there is a symmetry, and for the sake of the small fishermen who are the main suppliers to these important export markets we need both quotas and access. If we were unable to sell into the EU (or heavy tariffs were to price UK fish out of the EU market) then we would have to change our eating habits dramatically. And we would then have to import almost all of our favourite fish – cod and haddock.
But surely we would be free to fish cod and haddock in our own waters?
To a certain extent, yes. But our distant waters fleet doesn’t spend days on end steaming up to seas off the coasts of Greenland, Svalbard, Iceland or northern Norway for nothing. It’s because these stocks are plentiful, sustainable and can be fished economically – and that won’t change after Brexit.
Why do foreign vessels take a far higher share of the catch in British waters than our own vessels do?
Yes that’s true and on the surface it seems strange. But this is the result of a system that has evolved and developed over many years, and recognises the fact that we as a nation don’t, for example, have a desire for the blue whiting that represents the majority of the Norwegian catch in UK waters. In order for our vessels to fish for species like cod and haddock in waters outside our own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) there has to be a fair exchange of access and quotas.
Brexit offers up fantastic opportunities to land a good deal for Britain as we regain control of these arrangements, but we should not be fooled into thinking that we can maintain the supply of the fish we love if we simply banish foreign vessels from operating in our EEZ.
Doesn’t Brexit finally give Scottish fishermen a fair crack of the whip?
Scotland has always been the UK’s winner from the existing arrangements – the worst effects of the CFP have been felt in England. Scotland already lands more than two thirds of the UK catch, and in fact more fish is landed in Lerwick on Shetland than is landed in England, Wales and Northern Island combined. All of the numbers show that fishing in Scotland is in rude health compared to the rest of the UK, and if and when the UK leaves the CFP it is likely to improve its position still further. Naturally we want to promote Scottish interests but we need to make sure the rest of the UK fleet is allowed to recover to the same extent.
Aren’t you just standing up for the industrial fisheries who are depleting fish stocks with their massive factory vessels while the small guys are suffering?
There isn’t any ‘industrial fishing’ in the UK – this refers to hoovering up fish to process in to products such as fishmeal. This is a far cry from the environmentally sustainable, hi-tech and efficient systems used on UK vessels that minimise by-catch to world-leading levels. There’s also no evidence for the oft-heard assertion that big boats are crowding out the small boats. They aren’t even fishing in the same waters. Small vessels tend to operate in coastal waters. Larger, specialist vessels, such as freezer trawlers, have the equipment and ice class to work 1,500 miles away from the UK, in waters where smaller vessels simply couldn’t operate.
But aren’t the big vessels still being run by companies who are dominating the industry at the expense of owner operators?
Incorrect. Even the large trawlers in the UK tend to be run by small or medium-sized operators. They also tend to run on a communal catch basis, where the whole crew shares in the catch.
But surely small cottage industry boats are better for the environment?
Not necessarily. Of course a single smaller vessel will have less of a direct impact but of course you would require a great many more of them for the same catch. Larger vessels also tend to have far better systems for ensuring that they accurately target their intended catch leading to greatly reduced by-catch. And ours have measures to ensure the fish is filleted and frozen on board in the quickest manner, ensuring the fish is as fresh as it can be when it arrives in the fish and chip shops of Britain.