Stephen Eades – The UKIP question – can the UK manage its own fish stocks better than the EU? – Jan 15

It is said that at one time when you went to Lowestoft in Suffolk, a heart of the UK fishing industry, there were so many fishing boats moored there that you could step off the quay and walk from one side of the harbour to the other without touching the water.

Today, you would have to believe in your own divinity if you attempted the same thing!

Where have all the fishing vessels gone? Actually, not really the right question — you should ask, where have all the fish gone ?

Once we had abundant stocks of fish in the North Sea which employed tens of thousands of people the length and breadth of the Isles. Now we have an industry that’s so small that one UK Fisheries Minister was prompted to remark that it is no larger than the lawn mower industry!

Our fish stocks no longer belong to us. They belong to the European Union, and have done so since we joined the EU in 1972. Under the Treaty of Rome, we have given all other EU countries equal access to our fishing waters, and they now have the same right as we do to catch our fish — the only exception being fish within our 12 nautical mile limit. You certainly have to believe in the EU to believe that this makes sense.

However what would happen if we were to leave the EU, as UKIP demands? The answer is we would once again become the owner and custodian of all the fish living out to a distance of 200 nautical miles from our coasts (not so far where our seas abut with those of France, Eire, etc). That means regaining control of about four-fifths of all the fish that live in western European waters.

You might think, is there any better recruiting sergeant for UKIP than this!

However, do not rush to conclusions.

Firstly, there are not many fish left in our seas to catch anymore — even if you did act to exclude all the “foreign” EU vessels and repatriated their catch. That’s why fishing quotas exist — to stop fishing vessels taking out of the sea more fish than the stocks can safely withstand.

Secondly, the real culprits in this world of over-fishing are the large boats, with their powerful engines and massive nets. Whilst in the UK four-fifths of our fleet are small vessels under-10 metres in length, they only catch 4% of the annual catch. It’s the large vessels and their owners that are doing all the damage. Be under no illusion, it is they who control the show.

So if we left the EU and reclaimed all of “our” fish stocks, would the situation improve?

You have to be an optimist to believe that. To begin with, we would have to give the UK fishing industry back to the small boats, otherwise the stocks will continue to be over-fished by the large vessels and there still won’t be any fish to catch. You have to be an apostle of Fritz Schumacher’s small is beautiful if you think the UK government is going to make that decision !

Only, let’s be the optimist for moment. Let’s dream. We could manage our fish stocks like Norway and Iceland do — neither is a member of the EU — and they have abundant stocks, nearly all well managed. We could, and we can do things differently. The evidence is there.

So there are serious issues to consider, and an important debate to be had. Will UKIP and the other UK parties put these matters before you at the next election? I’ll bet they will not, not unless you demand that they do! And, Marinet’s thoughts? It is clearly time to speak up, and to speak up loudly, or nothing will change.

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