Is Theresa May set to continue Edward Heath’s betrayal of Britain’s fishing industry? Fishermen were betrayed by a Conservative Prime Minister in 1970 and it seems that without clarification, Theresa May could continue that trend.

The Prime Minister made a wide-ranging speech setting out her aims and objectives for achieving Brexit, yet failed to mention the EU dominated fishing industry.

Mrs May’s failure came despite many people in the industry believing they were ‘sold out’ and ‘betrayed’ by Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath when in 1970 he signed the UK up to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), in a last-minute deal to secure the UK’s accession to the EU.

The CFP deal made fishing the first industry to become a full EU competence controlled by Brussels and opened Britain’s rich fishing grounds up to EU boats as part of the ‘common resource.’

Re-establishing control of the UK’s 200-mile limit and the rich fishing grounds within it – known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – must be one of the top priorities of Brexit, yet it didn’t even get a mention. This is despite the UK fishing fleet having been decimated under the harsh terms of the CFP’s quota system; fleet reduction initiatives; and discards policy, leaving those still operating struggling to make a basic living.

Mrs May’s failure to address this issue is especially worrying, considering the industry could be such a shot in the arm for the British economy in the post-Brexit era. Only last week, fishing industry group, Fishing for Leave – who staged the audacious Thames protest during last year’s referendum campaign – released figures showing the British fishing industry could be worth up to £6.3 billion if we regain control of our seas.

Using the EU’s own catch data (the STECF database) the grassroots Fishing for Leave established the true numbers of fish being taken from the UK; revealing that 63% of catches within the EU’s North-West area are now taken from UK waters.

British vessels catch only 41% of the fish within the British part of the sector, whilst the remaining 59% can be attributed to EU vessels operating in British waters!

Enforcing the UK’s EEZ in the post Brexit era therefore could mean a potential 220% increase in the quota available for UK based trawlers even if quota sizes were sustained at current levels.

This is worth an estimated £1.6 billion in catch values alone; however, when processing values are then added to this figure, the net-to-plate value is worth a colossal £6.3 billion to the UK economy.

That’s the equivalent of six Type 45 destroyers, one hundred and eighty new secondary schools or eight new hospitals.

For me, the Fishing for Leave reports highlights the colossal level of resources that have been stolen from the UK over the last 40 years, and if proof were ever needed of the abject betrayal of the UK’s coastal communities, this is it. The simple fact is, this craziness must stop and we must regain control of the management of our seas.

However, while Brexit provides a golden opportunity to automatically repatriate all the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone and the colossal resources within it, our esteemed Prime Minister seems to think she can afford to simply ignore fishing as an issue.

While this could be a mere oversight I think the problem here goes deeper, causing me to worry that the Conservatives intend to use the fishing industry as a bargaining chip in the forthcoming negotiations.

I for one am determined not to let this happen. There is so much untapped potential within the industry that it would be criminal to ignore the opportunity Brexit presents. That is why I am calling on Theresa May to clarify her position on fishing and pledge to make it the first industry to once again become a full UK competence in the post-Brexit age.

As a basic starting point, I would also like Mrs May to clarify that the UK will exit the CFP in its entirety; reinstate and enforce the UK’s EEZ, and make sure that none of the damaging legislation forced on the fishing industry by the EU is carried into UK law under her Great Repeal Bill.

Another issue that’s in need of desperate examination is the EU’s discards policy. This strictly enforced quota system has meant thousands of tonnes of perfectly good fish are thrown back to sea each year – despite often already being dead – simply to meet species quotas. This must also stop as soon as possible with the introduction of an easily manageable system that is both realistic and achievable.

Given the chance, the future of the fishing industry can be very bright, but only if we allow ourselves the opportunity to rebuild by doing away with all EU legislation in this area and return our seas to British control.

Fishing was betrayed on our entry into the EU. I am determined it will not be betrayed on our exit.

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