Through the months of Covid FFL mothballed and we hope everyone has come through the last weeks well.
With the publication of the government’s draft terms on fishing we now see a return to Brexit predominating as negotiations reach their climax.
On a positive note the broad context outlined here looks good – congratulations to the government and their Brexit team.
It sets the basis of being fully independent fisheries nations like Norway or Iceland whilst co-operating as two independent nations as obliged by UNCLOS.
It states that the UK will maintain its regulatory sovereignty, avoiding fealty to the CFP, so as to maintain freedom over domestic management.
It states that foreign vessels must obey UK law if/when allowed in UK waters – this must be enforced and it must be legislated in the fisheries bill that any foreign vessels granted access land in British ports. This is vital to ensure compliance with catch limits and also to see British ports and processors benefit from fish from British waters.
It states annual agreements which swerves an industry fear of being locked into a poor deal for years to appease the EU – it must be legislated in the fisheries bill that there is no back slide from this where the UK starts tough and in future years there is increasing give aways.
The commitment to fair shares of Total Allowable Catches is also hugely welcome.
It is the detail of who, when, where and how much that will be key.
Will we get Zonal Attachment to repatriate what should rightfully be British resources. Under this international principle whereby a nation has TACs based on the predominance of species in its waters.
Will the government stay fast on this or cave to a roll over of EU ‘Relative Stability’ shares where the UK gets a disproportionately meagre 25% of TACs yet 60% of catches/stocks are in our waters?
It must be legislated in this agreement and the fisheries bill that any deal and reciprocal annual access is predicated on the EU recognising Britain’s rightful 60% Zonal Attachment share of TACs.
How much access, for whom and where…?
It must be legislated in this deal and in the fisheries bill that any swap of access to one another’s waters will only granted when the UK receives a reciprocal value of fishing opportunities. No 2:1 or fish for deals on cars.
The last big unknown is regards Freedom of Establishment which allows big EU companies to establish fishing companies in Britain and run EU owned but UK registered Flagships.
These big Flagship companies now hold approx. half of UK fishing entitlement yet their vessels are EU crewed and land or consign their catches direct to EU markets and processors with no benefit to Britain.
The terms of the political declaration and the UKs negotiating position published in February both sought to maintain the ability of business to establish in one another’s territory. This is fine for most industries but not for fishing where mobile fishing vessel Flagships can just steam home.
It must be legislated in this agreement and in the fisheries bill that Freedom of establishment will not include fishing and that a strong Economic Link is enforced to ensure any UK fishing vessel must be 60% British owned, 60% British crewed and land, sell AND process 60% of its catches within the UK.
This is to ensure UK vessels deliver genuine benefit to, and help rebuild, British communities
This will finally see the terms of Mrs Thatcher’s 1988 Merchant Shipping Act and its Economic Link provisions, which were humiliatingly crushed by the ECJ in the infamous Factortame case, restored.
If this does not happen then there will be little to stop EU vessels excluded from British waters re-registering as Flagships here, allowing them to continue accessing British waters whilst steaming off back home to the EU or sending catches overland by truck.
We welcome foreign investment to help rebuild but it’s got to work and deliver benefit to Britain as its host country or it’s pointless and/or detrimental.
So overall, top marks for broad position, but the proof is in the detail of the pudding and whether there is no collapse and a follow through on this good broad outline.
Britain holds the whip hand, EU consumers need/are dependent on fish caught in British waters. We must not back down from being achingly close to righting the wrong inflicted upon fishing by Ted Heath and regaining our greatest natural resource to exorcise an injustice and rejuvenate British coastal communities with a £6-8bn industry.
We wish you God speed David Frost, please don’t let us down!