MEP: Fish policy half century no cause for celebration –

MEP: Fish policy half century no cause for celebration Published:  23 January, 2008

Struan Stevenson

A BITTER attack on the Common Fisheries Policy, which clocks up 50 years today has been launched by Euro MP Struan Stevenson.

And the MEP said it could be the policy’s final birthday in its present form.

He went on: ” It is a sad indictment of this disastrous policy that after years of quota cuts, TAC (Total Allowable Catch) restrictions, de-commissioning schemes, lay-offs, tie-ups, emergency closures and redundancies, we have seen 60% of the UK whitefish fleet scrapped (including more than half the Scottish fleet in the past 5 years) and thousands of jobs destroyed, despite the fact that the core objectives of the policy (CFP) written into the Treaty (of Rome) were aimed at preserving and protecting fish stocks and maintaining and enhancing jobs in the fishing industry.”

If ratified, the proposed Lisbon Treaty or European Constitution will formally enshrine fisheries policy as one of the handful of ‘exclusive competences’ reserved for the European Union, the MEP said.

” This will formally place fisheries policy outside the jurisdiction of individual nation states, although decisions would still be made primarily by the council of ministers, as is the case now. However, all the signs are that things are set to change and change in a significant way.”

Mr Stevenson said although the CFP has been around since the EU was founded, Britain only joined up in 1975. Many people believe that Ted Heath ‘betrayed’ Britain’s fishing sector when he ‘signed over control to Brussels.’

But Mr Stevenson contended: “The truth is somewhat different. When Ted Heath signed up to the CFP, international maritime law gave a country jurisdiction only out to 12 miles. Beyond 12 miles was deemed international water. As part of Britain’s accession negotiations Ted Heath insisted on securing a derogation for Britain out to 12 miles for a period of 30 years, thus protecting UK fishing interests in a European Economic Community that at that time only numbered 6 Member States. It was during the ‘Cod War’ from November 1975 until June 1976, when Iceland unilaterally declared a 200 mile fisheries limit, that international maritime law was changed and every country was able to take control out to 200 miles or the median line.

” At this point Jim Callaghan’s Labour Government signed over control from 12 to 200 miles to Brussels in a complete act of betrayal of UK fishing interests. “When our 30 year derogation expired in 2005, Conservative MEP’s led a successful campaign to have it reinstated, against strong opposition from the Spanish. We were given a further 10 years jurisdiction for the UK out to 12 miles.

“In the meantime there is every sign that that the CFP is going to be broken up, with control moving to a range of new departments in the Commission under the overall umbrella of EU Maritime Policy, while day to day management of fisheries will be effectively devolved to RAC’s (Regional Advisory Council’s) comprising fishermen, scientists and other stakeholders. The first indications of this new approach appeared at last December’s Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels, when approval was granted to a Scottish initiative which will reward fishermen with extra days at sea for using specialist gear to help certain depleted species to escape as well as volunteering information on immature catches. Increasing trust in the stakeholders and a willingness to work with them rather than dictate to them from on high, has marked the enlightened leadership of Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg.

“Similarly, the rapidly evolving EU Maritime Strategy will see major changes in the way our fisheries are managed. In twenty years’ time it is likely that the EU fisheries sector will look very different, because of external factors such as climate change and because of our own actions. Climate change will have altered which fish stocks are found where in EU waters. New species may have arrived and former species departed to colder climes. Evidence of such movement is already apparent in the case of North Sea cod. Hopefully, improved management and conservation, linked to a diminishing fleet, will have led to an abundance of commercial fish and a good living for all those in the fisheries sector.

“Commissioner Borg is also keen to improve the image of the fisheries sector, which currently enjoys poor respectability. Fishing is seen as dangerous and poorly paid and it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract new, young people into careers in the industry. By striving for improved health and safety on vessels and better pay and conditions for crews, the Commissioner hopes that the industry will once again be able to attract young, skilled people into a career on the sea. However, he recognises that this can only be achieved in a sustainable and profitable industry. More resources will therefore need to be devoted to research and education aimed at improving knowledge and skills, such as special training courses for skippers to give them a basic understanding of the science that affects their industry.

“The Commission and the European Parliament are also striving hard to end the disgraceful by-catch and discards problem which is a key consequence of the TAC’s and quotas regime of the CFP. A total ban on discards may end the annual abhorrence which has seen up to a million tonnes of healthy fish thrown dead over the side of fishing vessels in European waters, because the fish were either undersized, immature or out of quota.

“It should be remembered that as marine fish stocks diminish world-wide, the importance of fish farming continues to increase in significance. Recently and for the first time, the products of aquaculture sold annually around the world, exceeded wild catch. The EU has been at the forefront of this exciting development and can maintain its leadership position, providing healthy and nutritious food to an eager public, if fish farms are allowed to develop in a way that is compatible with other coastal and maritime uses. The importance of fish farming for often remote, rural communities where few other job opportunities exist cannot be over-stressed. This year will see a series of major international conferences on aquaculture as the EU strives to regain global leadership in this vital field.” is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.