This article was originally published on BrexitCentral.
With the so-called ‘Scallop Wars’ between British and French fishermen yet to fully conclude, new tensions have emerged in the English Channel. Cornish fishermen have recently complained about French trawlers deliberately obstructing and destroying their crab pots, which has resulted in costing them thousands of pounds.
French trawlers have been spotted within the UK’s 12-mile limit, forcing the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation (CFPO) to take matters into their own hands by confronting French fishermen at a meeting in Plymouth. This conflict occurred shortly after a deal was reached between the British and French to end the Scallop Wars.
Last month French fishermen were accused of throwing rocks and flares, and ramming British boats when both sides clashed over the right to trawl the scallop beds. While the negotiations took place and until a deal was reached, British fishermen had agreed to stay away from the Bay of Seine. This feud simply highlights why it is right for the UK to be leaving the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
Under the CFP, different fishing quotas are assigned to each country since there are central limits in place on the numbers of fish which can be caught. It is designed to allow fishermen from different EU Member States to compete in a fair environment, as well as preventing overfishing. Neither of these intentions has properly materialised.
Firstly, the CFP is overcentralised. There are faceless bureaucrats in Brussels who are micromanaging diverse fisheries and marine environments, without actually understanding the local issues or listening to the voices of hundreds of fishermen. If the UK had greater control over its own fishing policy, we could introduce more flexibility to allow fishermen and authorities like the CFPO, to effectively manage our resources and fishing grounds.
Secondly, the CFP does not prevent overfishing. Despite having over 40 years of the CFP, it is said three out of four of the major commercial stocks are currently being overfished. Furthermore, the policy forces fishermen to dump millions of dead fish back into the sea every year because they’re either too small or belong to the wrong species.
Lastly, there is also the issue of quota hopping. This means big commercial fishing companies from one EU Member State try to establish themselves in another country’s fishing waters by buying UK fishing vessels and therefore having access to our quotas. This clearly favours big industrial trawlers over small and sustainable inshore fishing communities with much smaller fishing boats. After Brexit, we would have the authority to exclude foreign vessels who have gained unfair access to fishing in our waters through the CFP.
From this, it is evidently clear the current system of fishing quotas has resulted in these conflicts between British and French vessels. Derek Meredith, the South Devon owner of two fishing boats caught up in the recent attack on five British vessels attacked by around 40 French vessels. Mr Meredith has claimed he had also experienced similar actions by French fishermen in 2016. The fact French fishermen have resorted to the use of violence against our vessels again is completely hypocritical.
France has hugely profited from the CFP, allowing them to catch around 60% of their fish in British waters. Whilst the French have happily benefited from EU quotas, the British fishing industry has been in serious decline for the last few decades. Once a net exporter of fish, the UK now runs an annual trade deficit. Introducing the CFP has led to fewer jobs and fewer fish being caught.
The decline of UK fishing has seriously impacted thousands of British fishermen’s livelihoods and their communities. For example, the scallop-fishing industry supports more than 1,200 jobs and is said to be worth around £120 million a year. This could all be threatened if French vessels continue to have the same access to our fishing waters.
Brexit could change all this with some exciting prospects. The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has confirmed leaving the EU’s fishing regime “creates a sea of opportunity” and we will become “a world leader in managing our resources while protecting the marine environment”.
If we leave the EU without a deal or transition period, the UK will immediately become an independent coastal state and revert to international law under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This would automatically restore all our resources and control of our 200-mile maritime zone, which would give us the opportunity to rebalance the quota share to determine who fishes in UK waters. The pro-Brexit group, Fishing for Leave, claim British fishermen will have three times as many fish to catch when the UK has the ability to set its own quotas.
However, what happens next may all depend on the Government’s Chequers White Paper. The Chequers proposal pledges the UK will leave the CFP, but would also mean keeping EU fishing rules and following the unfair EU quota system. This would be a fatal mistake and a missed opportunity for many of our fishing communities.
The Scallop Wars, and now more recently the Crab Wars, represent the need to Get Britain Out of the CFP as soon possible to ensure our fishing industry and coastal communities can grow, succeed and prosper. French aggression towards our fishing vessels only symbolises their fear and anxiety over losing access to the rich supply of fish in British waters. Whilst UK fishermen have never been inside their 12-mile limit, French fishermen have been welcomed between 6 and 12 miles around Devon and Cornwall. This must change after Brexit.
By taking back control of our own fishing grounds, we will be truly free to determine our own policy for the next generation of British fishermen.
Luke Watson is a Research Executive at the grassroots, cross-party campaign Get Britain Out.