3 December 2017
‘We should have access to greater waters after Brexit, then, fishing for more fish, but more sustainably,” said Tory MP Neil Parish last Wednesday “This is one of the parts of Brexit that could actually be positive.”
Parish was talking to the Commons’ environment, food and rural affairs select committee – of which he is the chairman. A former member of the European parliament, he backed Remain ahead of the referendum.
Taking evidence from a panel of expert witnesses, though, including fishing and legal experts, as well as environmentalists, Parish was open and upbeat – as was the tone of much of Wednesday’s three-hour hearing. The session attracted almost no media coverage, of course. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important.
The UK fishing industry is quite small. Just 6,000 vessels-strong, our commercial fishing fleet landed 708,000 tons of fish in 2015, worth around £775m. The industry directly employs around 30,000, in both fishing and processing – far less than in the past. The decline of fishing communities has generated much anti-EU sentiment in parts of the UK – and no wonder. Hours before we legally joined the European Economic Community in 1973, the six existing members passed a sneaky regulation granting themselves access to British fishing waters. Prime minister Edward Heath accepted it, so determined was he to be in the club. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy is a bloated, bureaucratic mess that incenses both the UK fishing industry and environmentalists concerned about over-fishing. It is also grossly unfair. Around 60pc of the fish caught in UK waters are claimed by non-British boats. Such vessels have caught eight times more fish in British waters over the last five years than UK boats have from other parts of the EU.
John Ashworth, a highly respected fisherman-turned-campaigner, observes that the once premier fishing port of Peterhead, near Aberdeen, now has “hardly any Scottish boats”.
Peterhead is deepening its ports, but “only to accommodate Spanish and French vessels using it as a transit point”. Over half the fish caught by non-EU boats in British waters are netted off Scotland.
To read Liam Halligan’s piece for the Sunday Telegraph, click here.