This small sector has been promised benefits that will not materialiseby Simon Taylor / January 20, 2020 / Leave a comment
Fishermen are famous for exaggerating the size of their catch. “You should have seen the one that got away,” they boast. Well, Brexit has turned this into an art form.
Looking ahead to negotiations on a new UK-EU fisheries deal, Peter Aldous, Tory MP for Suffolk, told the Today programme earlier this month that Brexit would mean a bonanza for UK fishermen. “We’d see a sevenfold increase” in what could be caught “by UK vessels in the south and north sea,” he said.
After years of decline, the UK’s fisheries industry is tiny, accounting for 0.12 per cent of UK GDP. The automotive industry by contrast accounts for 4 per cent. Even something like heritage tourism accounts for 1.1 per cent.
And yet fishermen enjoy undeniably strong support from a public that admires a group that does a very dangerous job in extreme conditions. Actually, fishing isn’t in the top ten of the UK’s most dangerous professions—but the risks are undeniable.
Indeed, the hard Brexit camp has exploited public sympathy for the UK’s fishing industry and uses the sector as the poster child for the injustices of EU membership. Perhaps the best example of this myth-based PR came during the referendum campaign, when Ukip leader Nigel Farage stood at the head of a small flotilla of trawlers to call for the UK to “take back control” of its fisheries. He told TV cameras that the UK fishing industry was “literally being destroyed as a result of EU membership.”
Now, with talks turning to the future deal with Europe, fisheries are back in the national conversation. But are the EU and its Common Fisheries Policy really to blame for the state of the UK’s fishing industry? And will the negotiations due to start soon undo some of the past injustices of EU membership?
The UK got a raw deal on fisheries when it joined the then European Economic Community in 1973. Just as the UK was finalising negotiations on entry to the EEC, the six founding members reached a deal on sharing access to waters. The UK, along with Ireland and Denmark, has long coastlines and rich waters so was ripe for the plundering. This access has been fixed in an annual round of quota setting…