Friday, 31 July 2015

Not bad, surprisingly

Bertie Armstrong chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has a surprisingly good article in The Scotsman in which he sums up how the question of fisheries should affect the way we think about the forthcoming EU Referendum. The summary of the advantages if Britain regains control of her fisheries is good as is his point that renegotiations should include the subject as well.

Alas, so far there is no sign that the Prime Minister and his team have any interest in discussing repatriation of fisheries as part of the new deal for Britain in the EU (should we decide to stay in).

The UK government (though, as we know, decisions to do with fisheries is not taken by that particular entity no matter how DEFRA preens itself) has banned Guernsey fishermen from UK and EU waters (in fact, EU waters since there really  is no such thing as UK waters under the equal access of the CFP).

There appears to be some disagreement about events leading up to the ban. HMG says they have been negotiating since March and the ban is being used, they hope temporarily, as a last resort.

When the ruling was announced this morning though, Commerce and Employment Minister Deputy Kevin Stewart said the decision had come completely “out of the blue”.

The details seem a little complicated, though the BBC gives a good summary here.

The Fisheries Management Agreement means all commercial fishing within the Bailiwick's 12 nautical miles (nm) has to be licensed.

It also means Bailiwick vessels need licences to fish in EU and UK waters.

However, the lack of a quota policy has led to the UK suspending licences held by Bailiwick vessels from Saturday.

This decision does not prevent any Bailiwick fishermen from continuing to fish in local waters in accordance with their licences, but does prevent Bailiwick vessels from fishing in EU waters, which includes those of the UK. Guernsey's Commerce and Employment Department said it was "surprised and shocked at the short notice and lack of consultation".

It said George Eustice MP, UK Fisheries Minister, explained the move was in response to the States of Guernsey's policy of not applying UK quota controls to Bailiwick vessels in Bailiwick waters in accordance with the FMA. The BBC has approached the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for comment.

The Commerce and Employment department said not applying the UK quotas had been agreed in the Fisheries Management Agreement. It warned the imposition of the quotas could make many island fishing businesses "unviable".

Watch this space for updates on the story.

As we have mentioned on this blog, Sheryl Murray MP for South East Cornwall is now the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fisheries and we do expect great things from her.

She has written a piece for Conservative Way Forward about EU renegotiations and the fishing industry, which is good enough as a starting point but we do hope she will go further. Actually, we fully expect her to do so.

Most of the piece is a useful summary of the history of the fishing industry since the seventies and the unhelpfulness of the Common Fisheries Policy with which we agree entirely though we would have preferred greater emphasis on the fact that this is a political structure with decisions being made at the centre with close regard to the essence of the policy that Ms Murray does mention:

Enshrined in every Basic Regulation after that time is the Principle of, “Equal Access to a Common Resource”.

This is enshrined because it is the basis of that agreement and has actually been in the treaties since the Maastricht one of evil fame.

The much touted reforms have not altered that by a whisker or a fishbone. Equal access and common resource are still the guiding principles.

Sheryll Murray ends the piece with the following words:

As David Cameron pushes for better terms for the British people in his renegotiation talks with the EU, we all have a unique opportunity to finally put fishing at the heart of discussions. Now is the time for the Prime Minister to rectify the dreadful mistakes of the past and include restoration of national control over the UK 200 mile median line limit so we can operate freely just like our neighbours in Iceland and Norway.

Indeed, we would like to be in the same position as Iceland and Norway: we would like to control our own fishing waters and negotiate on our own behalf. There is, as it happens, only one way of achieving that state of affairs: by leaving the Common Fisheries Policy and repatriating powers over the fishing industry to this country. So far, the Prime Minister has shown no sign of negotiating that exit.

There is an organization in Parliament called Better Off Out. It consists of a number of MPs and Peers who believe not only that we should have a referendum on whether we want to stay in the European Union - that battle seems to have been won with only the SNP, rather bizarrely, opposing it - but also that we should eventually get out. The group also includes other organizations and individuals who share that view and, already, the discussion on how best to win that referendum has begun.

FAL's representative contributed an obvious idea: the Common Fisheries Policy is an economic and ecological disaster and those so-called reforms have changed nothing seriously. (There will be some more blogs on that subject in the near future.) Withdrawal from it would be greeted on all sides of the political spectrum though possibly not by the SNP, whose thinking about the EU remains erratic.

There are two ways of using this. One is to keep insisting that David Cameron, in his negotiations, put repatriation of the fisheries policy on the table. Some preliminary work has been done by Lord Stoddart of Swindon on that as this blog has pointed out but HMG continues to prevaricate and side-step the issue. Could our readers not lobby their MPs on the subject? After all, the Prime Minister wants to bring back the best deal for the country and what could be better for it if the management of fisheries as well as negotiations with other fishing countries such as Norway and Iceland were back in our hands?

Secondly, we can start trying to persuade people that if we cannot get control of the fisheries back (or control of anything else) we should leave the EU through legitimate means and think about how we would run affairs in the business ourselves.