This article was first published on Huffington Post.
With the OECD releasing yet another doom-laden report predicting recession and general turmoil in the event of a vote for Brexit, the ordinary voter could be forgiven for dismissing the whole debate as one of meaningless claims and counterclaims. Both sides have undoubtedly been twisting and manipulating the figures to try and scare the Great British Public into voting one way or the other. It is therefore necessary for the campaigns to get back to the important issues which matter to voters. Of particular interest to Britain’s coastal communities is the fate of Britain’s fishing industries in the event of Brexit. This is an industry which has been in significant decline over recent decades and the EU’s onerous Common Fisheries Policy has undoubtedly played a role.
When we first joined the European Community (the forerunner to the European Union) in 1973 there were 23,476 fishermen in the UK – by 2014 this had halved to 11,845! It is not just fishermen who have lost their jobs. Between 2000 and 2012 the number of full time jobs in the UK sea fish processing industry has fallen from 22,256 to 11,864. Unlike other industries which have also declined over a similar time-scale – coal mining being the obvious example – there are no economic or environmental reasons why the UK’s fishing industry should have collapsed like this. The fishing industry has thrived in other North Atlantic countries (notably Norway, Iceland and Greenland), which have no major competitive advantage over their British counterparts. The decline in our British fishing industry is simply due to political, not economic or environmental factors. The major political factor influencing our British fishing industry has been our membership of the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy, which has been forced upon us as a result.
The Common Fisheries Policy works as follows. Every year the European Commission dictates a “Total Allowable Catch” for each species of fish. Each of these are then divided and allocated to each Member State. This is not an equal division based on the size of each nation’s coastlines, or the size of their fishing fleets, but rather, it’s negotiated between the different Member States. The British government has only a limited number of bargaining chips, and has to spend those protecting vital industries, such as the City of London, from harmful EU regulations. As a result they are unable to secure a fairer deal for Britain’s fishermen, who are naturally fed up seeing British waters being allocated to their foreign competitors.
It is not just British fishermen who lose out under the CFP. The CFP dictates that once the “Total Allowable Catch” has been reached, the fishermen have to immediately stop fishing that species. Clearly various species live alongside each other, and this has led to the dumping of the non-allocated species – regardless of their subsequent chance of survival. This has caused huge damage to the UK’s sea life and has resulted in a major fall in Britain’s fish stocks. The problem is made worse by the EU’s subsidies. The majority of these are given to a small number of national fishing fleets which utilise environmentally damaging ‘monster boats.’ This is instead of supporting and encouraging small-scale fishermen who use sustainable fishing techniques. The European Commission has itself accepted the huge environmental and commercial damage of the CFP, however the few reforms which have been passed are not enough to halt the current decline in European fish stocks, and the depletion of our fishing industry.
Remainers will undoubtedly point to the environmentalist groups which have come out in favour of the EU as evidence the UK’s marine life is better off if we stay inside the EU. They will of course fail to mention the millions of £s the EU pumps into these groups on our behalf. We are not suggesting Greenpeace and other groups have been ‘bought off’ by the EU, but they should be honest to the Great British Public and declare the fact they have a financial interest in Britain voting to Remain. It is true the UK government also gives money to various charities and campaign groups, and there is a case for taxpayer-funded campaigns. However it should be up to British taxpayers to decide where their money is spent, and if they feel the government is misspending and wasting their money, they can remove those responsible in a general election. The European Commission which runs the EU is not elected. The UK’s own European Commissioner, Lord Hill, has never held an elected position in his life. It is therefore impossible for the Great British Public to have a say. The unelected and unaccountable nature of the EU ensures these funding deals are not transparent, meaning we do not know the conditions the charities had to agree to in order to receive the cash. All of this means the charities and groups which receive money from the EU are compromised and should not enter into the referendum debate.
Brexit would have several potential benefits for Britain’s fishermen. It would restore the UK government’s control over this important industry, allowing it to pursue a more environmentally-prudent policy and the regeneration of jobs for our fishermen. Under International Law the UK owns its own waters ensuring the British government would have a strong hand in further negotiations with the EU following Brexit. There would be a wide range of different options available to the UK, ranging from limiting the amount of time fishermen are allowed out at sea, to more radical solutions such as a ban on commercial fishing whilst compensating existing fishermen. It is clear the EU itself is highly resistant to change, and by the time it implements or adopts necessary reform it would clearly be too late for our own fishing industry. Norway, Iceland and Greenland all have highly successful fishing industries and they are all outside the EU. It is clear a Remain vote will destroy what is left of Britain’s fishermen and our fish stocks; whilst a vote to Leave could lead to radical change which could help them both gradually recover. For all those who care about Britain’s fishing industry, there is only one option – and this is to vote to Get Britain Out of the EU.