Something fishy in the Tory manifesto?

On Thursday I wrote about what the Conservative party manifesto has to say about Brexit. One area of policy I did not cover was the recovery of the UKs fishing rights in our territorial waters.

A number of commentators have interpreted the wording of the manifesto to imply that the UK will not be seeking to enforce its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as laid down in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982, but will instead be reinstating only the older 12-mile limit.

This has resulted a twitter dispute between fellow UK pro-Brexit MEPS Nigel Farage (UKIP) and Daniel Hannan (Conservative):


What does the Conservative manifesto say?

When we leave the European Union and its Common Fisheries Policy, we will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control. A new Conservative government will work with the fishing industry and with our world-class marine scientists, as well as the devolved administrations, to introduce a new regime for commercial fishing that will preserve and increase fish stocks and help to ensure prosperity for a new generation of fishermen. To provide complete legal certainty to our neighbours and clarity during our negotiations with the European Union, we will withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention. [My emphasis]

To clarify some terms, the Common Fisheries Policy or CFP is the EU fisheries policy under which all member states share their fishing waters as a common resource.

The London Fisheries Convention is an earlier (1964) agreement which limited countries exclusive fishing zone to 6 miles.

This is what Fishing for Leave has to say here:

The manifesto states that the UK “will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control”.

The choice of the last 4 words are the key. They are ambiguous and a delusory play on words.

They don’t trip off the tongue and this peculiar yet deliberate choice of words are of dire concern and ring alarm bells for a total backslide and fudged deal.

Why hasn’t the natural wording of “all UK waters” or perhaps “all our EEZ” been used??

Why? Because the UK has never been able to exercise sovereign control over our EEZ in the waters between 12 and 200 miles from our shores! The UK has only ever been able to exercised sovereign control out to 12 miles before joining the EU!

Britain was already an EU member and bound by the CFP when international fishing limits were extended to 200 miles. …

Therefore, although the UK recognised her sovereignty over the EEZ, the UK has never been able to historically exercised control between 12 and 200 miles because it was automatically subverted by the EU!

According to Fishing for Leave, 80% by value of the UK catch is caught in UK waters, however 70% of the TAC (Total allowable Catch) in the UK EEZ is allocated to other member states. More detailed statistics are available from the NAFC Marine Centre in two reports [1] [2].

According to NAFC, about 1.1m tons of fish are landed each year from the UK EEZ, worth some £950m. Over the five year period from 2011 to 2015:

  • Less than half of the fish and shellfish landed from the UK EEZ by EU fishing boats (43% by weight) was caught by UK boats. ((= 57% by value – Gareth)).
  • If landings by non-EU (Faroese and Norwegian) fishing boats are included, UK boats’ share of the total landings from the UK EEZ falls to less than one-third of the total (32% by weight).
  • Non-UK European Union fishing boats landed about 700,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth almost £530 million, from the UK EEZ each year on average.
  • UK fishing boats landed 92,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth about £110 million, from other areas of the EU EEZ each year on average.
  • Non-UK EU fishing boats therefore landed almost eight times more fish and shellfish (by weight) from the UK EEZ than UK boats did from other areas of the EU EEZ, or almost five times more by value.
  • Two-thirds of the fish and shellfish landed from the North Sea by all EU fishing boats (67% by weight) were caught in the United Kingdom’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and half of them in the Scottish part of the UK EEZ

It certainly looks at though the UK has much to again, and little to lose by asserting control over its full 200-mile EEZ. However Government advisors are probably also pointing out that:

  • Sea fishing accounts for only 0.05% of UK GDP (one-twentieth of one percent). How much negotiating capital is it worth expending?
  • The EU external tariff on fish is 30%. Most of the fish we catch is sold in EU countries. The Government may be considering a trade-off between allowing the EU some continued access to the UK EEZ in return for continued free trade in fish.
  • Do we have the coastguard/ navy resources to patrol a 200-mile fishing zone?
  • A 12-mile zone would put us back where we were before we joined the EU.

While these arguments may sound sensible I believe it would be a miscalculation of the first order to bargain away the UKs fishing grounds now as we did in 1972. The UK is a maritime nation and despite the relative unimportance of fishing to our economy today, compared to say the car industry or the financial services sector, the decimation of our fishing industry at the hands of the EU has been a major cause of resentment.

This is particularly keenly felt in Scottish fishing towns like Aberdeen. By giving Scotland back its fishing grounds Theresa May will bolster support for Brexit north of the border, and put Nicola Sturgeon in the invidious position of trying to hand them straight back to Brussels again. If May wants to keep Scotland in the UK this is not the right issue to compromise on.

The UK should assert its full 200-mile EEZ, as do Iceland and Norway. But that does not mean we will all have to eat fish five times a week (though I wouldn’t mind). We should be prepared to sell portions of our quota on an ad-hoc year-by-year basis, perhaps by auction. On this matter we do not have to deal with the EU. As Frau Merkel has reminded us, we will be a “third country”. There is nothing to stop us doing bilateral deals with countries such as Denmark, whose fleet has traditionally fished on our side of the north sea midline (and vice versa). To work in this way will simplify the Brexit negotiations and avoid getting dragged in to a faux-CFP where fishing rights would be tied to financial services passporting and the rights of pensioners on the costa-del-sol.

May has said we are leaving the EU, not Europe. So the more our future relationships are conducted on a bilateral basis, and the less we have to do with the sclerotic and mendacious institutions of Brussels, the better.

Exclusive Economic Zones: UK (Red), EU (Blue), Other (Green)

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