Resolving the North Sea Cod Problem
The Success of Commercial Fishing in Britain Following a No-Deal Brexit
North Sea cod was once plentiful, sustaining communities and fishing fleets all along the east coast of Britain. However, just over a decade ago, the stock all but disappeared. As much as the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) destroyed Britain’s local fishing industry with its totally impractical and unworkable fishing quotas, one must credit the EU for assisting with the recovery of the fish stock. Even so, it is of absolute importance we regain control of our waters to ensure this recovery lasts.
Alongside efforts by Scottish fishermen, who devised their own methods of replenishing fish stock rather than abiding completely by EU regulations, cod will soon be declared as ‘sustainable’ by the Marine Stewardship Council. As fish stock is now more or less in abundance, British fisherman, local communities and restaurants should soon be able to enjoy the sentimental comeback of our cod.
Cod recovery took place under an outline of international arrangements, which essentially comprised of dividing Britain’s (English and Scottish) annual catch between the 27 EU Member States as well as Norway. Norway received 17%, the UK 47% and the remaining 36% was allocated to the rest of the EU Member States. British fishermen regularly recall nets of cod arriving just before midnight, but these would be on plates across the European Union by noon the next day!
The EU plan comprised of harsher catch quotas and limited the number of hours and days fishermen could actually be at sea, all in an effort to curb over-fishing and reach eventual sustainability status.
British fisherman are long-standing vocal supporters of Brexit, with prominent pressure groups established in the wake of the Referendum; most notably ‘Fishing for Leave’. The fishermen frequently state that these international arrangements are counterproductive to the aim of reclaiming our waters and trade after Brexit. They are rightly concerned, as under international fisheries law, UNCLOS Article 62.2, if a nation doesn’t have the fleet capacity to catch all its own resources it must give the ‘surplus’ to its neighbour, and during any Transition Period, EU directives could be passed which might undermine our fishing fleet’s operational capabilities. Considering we could regain 70% of our fishery resources post-Brexit and a staggering £1 billion of fish is caught by foreign boats in our waters, these arrangements must be abandoned when the UK leaves the EU in March next year. It can also be argued these sentiments echo the same concerns fishermen had of former Prime Minister, Edward Heath’s betrayal of our fisheries in 1973, when the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC).
Although the Government’s Brexit Fisheries Bill is currently in White Paper form, it is yet to pass into law, and might have to go a long way to ensure it gets through Parliament. A new CFP, due to be implemented immediately after Brexit and to which we would have to adhere to if we are in any Transition Period, would be a compromise Britain would have to endure, before our own Fisheries Bill is even finalised. Our fishing fleets may still be in decline, as although the new CFP bans discarding fish overboard which exceed catch quotas, (present in the current CFP), catch quotas themselves will still remain. This time, however, fishermen must immediately return back to port as soon as their catch quota reaches completion, or else vessels would catch more fish which would subsequently be tossed aside. It is, therefore, not in the best interests of the UK and its fishing industry to commit to the new CFP during any Transition Period.
Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands however, err on the side of caution on any potential decision by the UK. Clearly, managing our own fisheries independent of the EU and other EU Member States will determine how well our fish stocks are sustainable, and do not suffer the same consequences of over-fishing which so many of our fisheries have faced in the past.
Without EU CFP catch quotas, there seems to be no good argument for the UK to be giving away so much of its cod. Critics wonder about any potential free-for-all situation the UK could land itself in following its departure from the EU. However, this simply does not have to be the case. Ten years of replenishing our fish stocks can continue under our own direct control, and thrive more than ever. This is what was meant during the EU Referendum – ‘taking back control’ – rather being submerged under the control of the EU once again.
To manage our cod shares fairly, England should claim autonomy to manage our own fish, whilst Scotland should have the right to manage theirs – leaving other EU Member States the option to fish wherever they can reach an agreement. As numbers of cod recover, it would be in Britain’s best interest to reclaim our waters, so we can ensure maintenance of our delicate, yet recovering, valuable fish resources.
After Brexit, the United Kingdom is more than capable of implementing an efficient, independent fishing strategy, of benefit to the needs of each individual UK country, to reap the benefits of recovering our cod and fishing industry. Considering Norway is, ridiculously, calling for more than a fifth of our fish above their allowance, this would mean we need to close off our waters to Norway and the EU, saving our cod fish stock for ourselves.
In the light of the Government’s new Brexit Fisheries Bill, which would essentially give Scottish fishermen considerable powers over their English counterparts, this seems somewhat unlikely and poses as an unwelcoming alternative to the CFP. More must be done to ensure Great Britain gets the best clean break Brexit deal for the whole of the United Kingdom which 17.4 Britons voted for, and including, in this case, regain control of our waters.
The reoccurring issue is that any transition period would be a compromise for Britain’s fishing industry. There remains only one solution: and this is to ensure we Leave the EU with No Deal!
In simple terms, Britain should maintain our highly valuable and desirable, 200-mile coastal zone which will be of paramount importance to us as we Get Britain Out of the EU. We must protect all our resources after Brexit. The only feasible, workable solution to achieve beneficial independence for the English and Scottish fishing communities, is to ensure ministers work together to ensure maximum sustainability.
Zainab Hussain is a research executive for the cross-party, grassroots campaign, Get Britain Out.