Hook, line and sinker. Scottish Fishermen caught out by Brexit
During the EU referendum campaign Nigel Farage was the figurehead of an armada of pro Brexit fishermen.
It was strange to see the UKIP leader taking a sudden interest in fishing as:
Over three crucial years, during which key decisions were made on the reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), Nigel Farage was a member of the European Parliament Fisheries Committee. He turned up to just one out of 42 meetings.
Still, many Scottish fishermen believed that by getting out of the EU they could turn the clock back to the halcyon days before the evil Common Fisheries Policy. An imagined time when small British ships could plunder an endless marine larder with no environmental consequences.
The truth is that Scottish Fish Stocks were in decline due to over-fishing long before the EU existed. Those stocks were decimated further by Scottish fishermen, skippering bigger and better trawlers equipped with modern technology, funded by EU grants.
Apparently, it is beginning to dawn on some fishermen that Brexit may not be all they imagined it to be.
Like most pro Brexit arguments the situation is much more complicated than the Brexiters proposed, fishing rights:
extend back to the Middle Ages and banning foreign vessels from UK waters may well be incompatible with international law. Such negotiations may harm trading relationships with Europe. At present the UK exports around 80% of its wild-caught seafood, with four of the top five destinations being European countries.
Post Brexit negotiations will not be straightforward, as a spokesperson for the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations confirmed days after the vote.
Unfortunately, perhaps, the UK’s geopolitical position means that it is not politically or legally possible just to ringfence most of our fish resources, in the way that, for example, Iceland can. The reality is that most of our stocks are shared with other countries to some degree or other. We can certainly seek to renegotiate quota shares, as well as access arrangements, but it is realistic to expect that there will be a price. Who will pay that price is a critical question.
Some have also pointed out that the Common Fisheries Policy, though not perfect, had improved in recent years. That due to EU quotas, the decimated fish stocks are now replenishing.
Others suggest that the UK Government could have helped the traditional industry by changing the distribution of fishing rights in order to favour smaller vessels. Currently, 23 percent of the English quota is caught by one Dutch owned UK registered trawler, and this is a problem not caused by the EU.
Those arguments don’t matter much anymore. What is prescient is that the difficulty faced by Scottish fishermen is the same post Brexit as it has been for decades.
When Ted Heath signed up to the Common Fisheries Policy, he did so safe in the knowledge that 4000 Scottish fishermen, half the fleet at the time, would lose their jobs. He did this because the Scottish fishing industry isn’t that important to the UK economy as a whole. The fishermen were pawns in a much bigger game.
Problem for them is, if they were pawns back then they are not even flecks of dust on the chess board now.
The UK is just about to embark on a gargantuan, complex series of negotiations that will affect all sectors of the economy. The chance of them risking the overall negotiations in order to get a good deal for fishermen is next to zero.
What is certain is that when we leave the EU the money that the UK fishing industry receives from Europe will dry up. The UK government has been ominously quiet about the long term plans for replacing that stream of cash. It is an ominous silence that drowns out most of the referendum promises made by the likes of Farage.