BY MARK CHILES
It is absurd that a landlocked country like Austria should have a say in setting the catch quotas for Britain’s fishermen. Yet under tight EU quota restrictions, brought in with the Common Fisheries Policy in 1983, Austria currently helps determine what, how much of and where Britain’s fishermen currently fish.
Brexit changes all of that.
Freedom from the Common Fisheries Policy will not recreate the fishing industry of 30 to 40 years ago but it will make a very big difference to the opportunities available for Britain’s fishermen.
Britain would be able to demand far greater, but still sustainable, quotas of North Sea stocks if it left the EU and took its own seat on the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission which makes the decisions concerning by-country catch allocations. Norway has a seat at the commission table, Iceland has a seat at the table and The Faroes has a seat at the table but, extraordinarily, the UK, the country with the greatest interest in the North Sea, is denied a seat because, until Brexit, the UK is still a member of the EU.
How can a new British fishing industry help the UK prosper?
Take the oft-quoted example of Grimsby – struggling since the EU decimated its fishing fleet (not the Cod Wars with Iceland, which Labour likes to erroneously blame).
Brexiteers say exiting the EU could lead to the re-emergence of Grimsby-run fishing trawlers operating again. In the good times of the 1950s, it was said that the port boasted so many trawlers that you could walk across the harbour, jumping from deck to deck to get from one side to the other. But that is certainly not the case anymore. The 400 or so boats that once called Grimsby home have dwindled to a mere five which regularly moor on the South Bank.
The fish market and the processors are kept busy thanks to an influx of Icelandic caught cod and other white fish but the British-based fishing industry plays only a small part in this offering.
Even a small perk in trawler numbers in Grimsby could be a big boost for employment in North East Lincolnshire. If, over the next generation, Grimsby could expect a fleet of between 30 and 40 trawlers, then that would see the regeneration not of just the port, but the whole town. For every one person at sea, there are 10 to 15 people required on shore. Every ship needs a shipwright, an electrician, a welder. However the list is endless – double those 10-15 people to get a fairer reflection of the extra sorters, shopkeepers, transport staff, shippers etc . 40 extra boats in Grimsby alone could see jobs for an estimated 1,200 people created.
And that’s just Grimsby. Imagine the effect across the whole of the UK where coastal towns are the ones suffering the most from unemployment and feature worst on poverty lists. Fishing will bring money to once prosperous fishing towns and villages which have missed out on tourism income because they’re so run-down they’re not attractive to paying tourists.
Sure, there need to be new agreements struck with neighbours like Iceland and there must be investment in the catching sector by private initiatives, spurred on by government. There will still have to be some regulation in the North Sea, even if the UK abolishes the CFP.
Would there be the fishermen?
If people are in a position where they can make a lot of money, then they will go to work. People will continue to eat cod and haddock and the French will still want scallops for their Coquilles St-Jacques.
A great opportunity awaits which far outweighs any EU payments into UK fishing or for UK shares of EU fishing paid presently.
Unlike Austria, the UK is a water-lapped nation with a proud history of fishing. It is time to reclaim our rights.