There are figures popularly reported by the media that the UK now only has the rights to 13% of fishing within seas that we originally claimed sole rights to. It is difficult to determine if this figure has any meaning because of the complex way that fish are designated by type, and what proportion of each type we actually use of our allocation within the EU.
Territorial Waters were originally designated as 3 miles from low water mark, and then by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in 1964, could be extended to 12 nautical miles, (13.8 statute miles, or 22.2km). This included both the seabed and airspace above it and was designated as Sovereign Territory.
Then a new law was enacted by a number of countries defined as Contiguous Zones extending to 24nm, (27.6miles, 44.4km) in 1981, but the UK didn’t claim it or recognise claims of it by many other countries.
Finally, a new law for island nations was agreed in 1982 at the UN and defined as Exclusive Economic Zone added 200nm, (230.2 miles, 370.4km) to the 12nm limit. Island nations, if they wished to claim it, would have control of all economic resources within the zone, including fishing, mining, oil & gas exploration and control over pollution. UK didn’t claim.
Prior to 1973 the UK exercised its rights to the 12nm limit plus rights to a large portion of the continental shelf within the North Sea and to the west, north, and south of these islands. This area was often in dispute with vessels from Iceland fishing in this region adjoining their declared 200 mile limit. The main advantage of controlling such an area was not just as a resource of available food but to manage fishing in a way that is sustainable.
I cannot find information regarding the total number of fishing vessels of all sizes in 1973 but have found that there were 5073 part time fishermen and 17061 full time fishermen in 1975.
Figures from 1996 average at 2.2 men per fishing boat, which would put the number of fishing boats at 10,000 in 1975. In today’s money the income of these men would be say £25,000 a year for full time and £12,500 part time, and total wages equivalent to £490M.
A small coastal village with a population of 1000 may well have 20 fishing boats employing 44 men earning the present day equivalent of £1,000,000 in wages. Fish processed within the village and sold on to distributors and county markets would be the lifeblood of these villages.
After joining the ‘Common Market’ there was a slow but steady decline in the number of fishing boats or employed men as the impact of losing our territorial waters and continental shelf area took another 20 years for fish stocks to become seriously reduced.
By 1996 the number of boats had dropped from 10,000 to 8,667 and the number of fishermen from 22,134 to 19,044. By 2012 though the number of boats was down to 6406 and the number of men down to 2,162 part time and 17,061 full time.
The drop in employment income due to the loss of 2,911 part time and 6,778 full time men at today’s money would have been around £200M. Overall for the country this averages a 40% reduction in income but for many villages it would have been enough for complete financial collapse. A visit to many such villages show they are dilapidated and with no employment other than local service jobbing businesses, and residents living in retirement or on benefits.
Unlike the Common Agricultural Policy that was written in stone by the French in the early formation of the European Union, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has never been championed by a nation determined enough to protect its interests or those of the fish stocks. As a result the various nations comprising the EU have never agreed on sustainable levels of fishing within the North Sea and former UK fishing waters, and have progressively fished many species to the verge of extinction.
Under the terms of various treaties of the EU, owners of fishing vessels can register them in whichever country is most advantageous to them. This then means that they are allowed a portion of that countries fish quotas but don’t have to land the fish within the country of registration. By this means countries and their fishermen are now cheating other countries out of their proportion of quotas. It was reported in ‘The Independent’ in 21 December 1996 that 40% of fishing vessels of the UK were then foreign owned.
Clearly the CFP is a classic disaster caused by the greedy instincts of individual nations comprising the EU. It would have been better if the UK had (like France and its agriculture) never given up our territorial waters and protected fishing areas to the EU.
Continued membership of the EU is not ever going to reverse the decline of our fishing industry. The CFP is part of the problem and is unlikely ever to be reworked into a proper fish-stock management policy. Under ‘qualified majority voting’ there is no chance it will ever give the UK back the fishing rights it exclusively enjoyed before 1973.
The only solution to the re-invigoration of our coastal fishing villages and the preservation and increase in fish-stocks is by withdrawing from the EU and declaring a UK Exclusive Economic Zone to 212nm around the coast and aggressively policing the area. Around the UK this amounts to 298,718 square miles, (773,676 square km).
As Labour, Conservative, and Liberal all want to stay in the EU there is no prospect of addressing this issue by voting for them. Only by voting for UKIP, can this be resolved.