Almost a year and a half down the line from the (advisory, as was pointed out) referendum that sent the UK down the route to departing from the European Union, this was the first time that industry figures have met to discuss the implications of what will undoubtedly change the map of how fishing is managed in Northern Europe.
It’s also the case that more than a year on from the referendum, the waters are still very muddy as the UK and EU negotiation teams struggle to make headway – although the UK made a strong statement with its decision to withdraw from the 1964 London Convention that currently provides reciprocal access to the 6-12 mile zones of the UK, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
Alain Cadec, who chairs the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries, commented that this was a symbolic decision on the UK’s part.
‘This indicates Britain’s intentions and that the Brexit negotiations will be complicated, difficult and long,’ he said, adding that the European Parliament has noted the lack of progress in negotiations so far, and warning that a hard Brexit will mean that Britain will have a hard Europe to deal with.
‘Our priority is to preserve the interests of European fishermen. Fishing is an important economic activity and we hope it doesn’t become a pawn. But you can count on me to defend European and French fishing,’ he said, commenting that he believes Brexit “will be a disaster for our British friends.”
‘Fishing is one of the sectors most seriously affected by Brexit,’ he said and stated that without the Common Fisheries Policy that curtailed fishing effort, he believes that “fisheries would have been pillaged.”
Setting out the UK position, Jim Portus of the SWFPO, representing fishermen in the south-west of England, responded by saying that while Alain Cadec had stated that he hopes fishing will not become a pawn, his comments indicate that he expects it to become just that.
‘I have seen the bad side of the Common Fisheries Policy, the destruction of fleets and communities because of the imposition of CFP regulations,’ he said, citing the level of bureaucracy and the unfairness of the relative stability share-out as key reasons why UK fishermen backed leaving the EU.
He commented that there would arguably have been less anti-Europe feeling if reforms had stayed at their 2002 level.
‘The landing obligation was a step too far, and regional management would have been a real possibility of the European Parliament and other institutions could relinquish power,’ he said.