Opinion: Why it’s time to take back control of our fishing industry

Fishing boats moored up in Scarborough's harbour.
Fishing boats moored up in Scarborough's harbour.

There can be no doubt that one of the most heated issues during the Brexit Referendum was fishing. Scarborough, Whitby and Filey have a proud fishing heritage and many families, even if no longer engaged in the industry, feel a tremendous affinity with those braving tough conditions to bring home the harvest of the sea.

The Common Fisheries Policy has, quite rightly, come under attack. No one could fail to be angry when faced with footage of perfectly good fish being thrown back into the sea when quota rules dictated they could not be landed.

The majority of our local fleet now focus on shellfish such as crab and lobster. This is a sustainable fishery as undersized examples can be returned without being the worse for wear and strict landing sizes apply. Many of the lobster caught in the North Sea are exported live to Spain or France so there are real concerns that frictionless trade will continue once we are no longer in the EU. New markets are being developed with, for example, brown crab now being exported to lucrative markets in China. Once we are free of EU trade restrictions, we will be in a better position to become a truly global trading nation once again.

As we leave the European Union, the international legal position is clear. Under the UN convention on the law of the sea, the UK, like Norway or Iceland, becomes an independent coastal state. We can take control of our waters to the 200-mile limit or median line. We also intend to co-operate with our near neighbours on shared resources and shared stocks. Shoals of fish, of course, do not take notice of lines on the map.

We have already given notice to exit the 1964 fisheries convention which gave some access to six and twelve mile zones. Currently there is a huge imbalance in the way fishing opportunities are “divvied up”. In each year between 2012 and 2016, the EU fleet took 760,000 tonnes of fish on average from our waters but the corresponding catch by our boats from EU waters was only 90,000 tonnes. As we take back control, we can right this historic wrong.

We will still need controls to conserve and build up stocks but they will be our tailor made rules rather than another late night fudged compromise at the December EU fisheries council. Quota regimes work well for single species fisheries such as mackerel. An effort regime such as a limit on days at sea or the use of long lines work better in mixed fisheries particularly for our inshore fleet who have already seen a significant quota increase through the quota discard uplift.

The government announced a Fisheries Bill in the Queen’s Speech which will be published this summer. This will allow us to set our own rules as we take back control of our waters and lay the foundations for a revitalised and innovative fishing industry free from the dead hand of Brussels control.