Fisheries Facts and the EU

Richard Benyon MP was made a parliamentary bass champion by the Angling Trust for his work in trying to prevent over fishing - now he has a few hard truths for those arguing that our fisheries would be better off outside the EU.
Richard Benyon MP was made a parliamentary bass champion by the Angling Trust for his work in trying to prevent over fishing – now he has a few hard truths for those arguing that our fisheries would be better off outside the EU.

Whilst the Angling Trust is remaining neutral over the vexed question of whether or not Britain should remain a member of the European Union in deference to the wide variety of views held by our members there are many of us with a track record of fighting for fishing who believe that it is vital that our marine fisheries are managed in cooperation with our neighbouring countries. One such person is former Fisheries Minister and Angling Trust Ambassador Richard Benyon MP and I’m delighted to reproduce his thoughtful article here.

Personally I’ve long been a supporter of Britain’s membership of the EU. And, putting aside the overwhelming economic case for remaining in an institution that has helped deliver an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity, there are reasons why we as anglers should remind ourselves of how the EU has delivered many important protections for fish and wildlife. Cleaner rivers, improved sewage discharge standards, better bathing beaches, habitats and water framework directives – there is a long list of environmental achievements that have come from Brussels rather than Westminster.

That’s why I was pleased to be invited with Richard Benyon and other wildlife and environmental campaigners to attend the launch of Environmentalists for Europe – E4E- headed up by Stanley Johnson, the former MEP and father of Boris (who takes a somewhat different view!)

Environmentalists for Europe was launched earlier this year in Westminster.
Environmentalists for Europe was launched earlier this year in Westminster.

You can find E4E on Facebook or check out the website here: http://www.environmentalistsforeurope.org/

Anyway…have a read of what Mr Benyon has to say …

Fisheries: Facts not Fantasy by Richard Benyon MP 

I am not surprised that the Brexit campaign have made fisheries their poster boy. The failures of the old Common Fisheries Policy are an easy hit. It was not the EU’s finest hour. But a closer look shows the weakness of the highly simplistic arguments and downright inaccuracies of the ‘leave’ campaign.

They would have us believe that if only we could throw off the shackles of EU mismanagement and bureaucracy our brave fisherfolk can harvest plentiful seas freed of pesky foreigners. No. Not true.
Most of the comments I have heard about the evils of the CFP tend to come from the mouths of those unaware of recent significant reforms in fishery management. Reforms that were promoted by British Ministers and officials and agreed unanimously by all EU countries. A British Government successfully leading a popular reform agenda in Brussels. Under these reforms European waters will no longer be micromanaged from Brussels. Fisheries will be (are, in some areas already) managed by countries that fish a particular sea basin. Fishermen and scientists will be in control of saying what quantities of each stock can be harvested. The ghastly practice of throwing away perfectly edible fish is banned for most species and all countries in Europe are signed up to a legal requirement to fish sustainably. As I told the Prime Minister after the successful conclusion of our reform negotiations in 2011, “you see, you can reform the EU’.

North Sea cod stocks are recovering thanks to EU quotas and, as Richard Benyon argues here, we can't manage highly migratory species like bass and herring on the basis of national boundaries. Fish don't read maps!
North Sea cod stocks are recovering thanks to EU quotas and, as Richard Benyon argues here, we can’t manage highly migratory species like bass and herring on the basis of national boundaries. Fish don’t read maps!

Fish Don’t Read Maps!

As Fisheries Minister I sometimes had to remind people that beyond our inshore waters there are relatively few species that hang around in one part of the sea. They might spawn in one country’s waters and shoal in another’s. Fish operate in ecosystems not according to lines on maps. In the case of North Sea Herring for example, most of the juveniles live in the south east corner around the German bight, whereas the adults tend to congregate around the Shetland Isles prior to spawning at various sites along the British coast. Cod are found throughout the North Sea but prefer spawning along the border between UK and Norwegian waters.This is important when you consider the complex network of bilateral arrangements that would have to be agreed if we left the EU.

Commercial fisherman like to claim they are feeding the nation but In fact the UK fleet exports 45% of its catch. 80% of that quantity goes to EU countries. For example 90% of fish landed in Ramsgate are sold in the Boulogne Fish Market
Commercial fisherman like to claim they are feeding the nation but in fact the UK fleet exports 45% of its catch. 80% of that quantity goes to EU countries. For example 90% of fish landed in Ramsgate are sold in the Boulogne Fish Market

Never mind “Project Fear”, “Project Fact” is needed here. The UK exports 45% of its catch. 80% of that quantity goes to EU countries. For example 90% of fish landed in Ramsgate are sold in the Boulogne Fish Market – for 15% more in value than they would get at home. When you visit North East Scotland you see vast European registered refrigerated trucks driving south and many don’t stop until they reach France or Spain. UK fishing vessels fish in the waters of other EU countries. In addition to wider sovereign waters fishing rights UK fishermen have rights within the 6-12 mile limit of four other member states: Ireland, Germany, France and the Netherlands. For example trawlers out of Brixham exploit the valuable scallop stocks in the Baie de Seine. Trawlers out of Peterhead fish in Dutch and German waters. Many of the foreign vessels fishing in UK waters do so because the companies that own them bought from UK fishermen and with them the right to fish. It is important to note that the UK is allocated about 30% of the EU’s total catch even though it has only 13% of the total sea area (ie the UK EEZ compared to the entire EU EEZ, but not including territorial waters).

UK fishing vessels have rights within the 6-12 mile limit of four other EU member states: Ireland, Germany, France and the Netherlands. Trawlers out of Brixham exploit the valuable scallop stocks in the Baie de Seine. Trawlers out of Peterhead fish in Dutch and German waters. It is important to note that the UK is allocated about 30% of the EU’s total catch even though it has only 13% of the total sea area.
UK fishing vessels have rights within the 6-12 mile limit of four other EU member states: Ireland, Germany, France and the Netherlands. Trawlers out of Brixham exploit the valuable scallop stocks in the Baie de Seine. Trawlers out of Peterhead fish in Dutch and German waters. It is important to note that the UK is allocated about 30% of the EU’s total catch even though it has only 13% of the total sea area.

In a post Brexit world what would “taking back control of our fisheries” really mean? Some suggest it would mean an end to quotas. No. Quotas would still be needed to regulate the quantity of fish landed. Would it mean an end to regulations on net sizes and engine emissions? Well, perhaps if a truly ignorant Government was elected that did not care a damn about the health of our seas, our environment or the future economic value of fisheries and the communities they support.

I have been a vocal critic of the pre reform CFP but it is simplistic to blame it for all the woes of the fishing industry. Professor Callum Roberts of York University has produced a graph of cod stocks in the North Sea. It shows a steep decline since the late 19th century. There are only two periods when cod stocks rose: 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. I’ll leave you to work that one out. There is not even a blip in the descending line at the time the UK joined the CFP. The truth is that our technical ability to harvest fish on an industrial scale has improved every decade and successive Governments’ ability to regulate the industry effectively has always been behind the curve. The absurd centralised nature of the CFP just made the problem worse – as did sea temperature rise, acidification and other environmental factors.

The ironic fact is that the “leave” campaign’s use of fisheries to support their case has come at a time when the future is starting to look bright for our fishing industry. Certain stocks are rising. North Sea cod has been one of the success stories of reformed EU management, showing strong recovery in the last few years and now approaching a healthy stock size for the first time in decades. Other stocks show signs of improvement. Our commitment with our EU partners to manage our fisheries to Maximum Sustainable Yield will deliver the increased biomass of fish that has so long been wished for. “Leave” offers our fishing industry only uncertainty and a myopic view of how to manage a complex environment. As Professor Roberts puts it, “The stocks of many species in UK waters have improved considerably with the reform of the CFP. The signs are positive”.

Richard Benyon is MP for Newbury and was Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries from 2010-2013

8 thoughts on “Fisheries Facts and the EU

  1. Yes! Those scientific facts are indisputable but we can do all that out side of the EU with out all the extra administration associated with present EU policies and the weekly thousands we pay in subs for just being a member state. On balance it is better out than in and Richard Benyon is not a deep sea trawler man earning his living by catching fish.

  2. Thank you for an interesting article.Ireland is within the EU and manages its bass stocks very well because it has the political will. The flip side to this is Nigel Farage who while a member of the European Parliament Fisheries Committee attended one out of 42 meetings.

    1. Great British fishing ports Lowestoft, Brixham, Grimsby, Newlyn, Whitby and Newbury… Wait hang on a minute NEWBURY!!! isn’t that nearly 60 miles from the sea, 70 miles is the furthest you can be from the sea in the UK, So who in their right mind would listen to a Fisheries Minister from Newbury, It’s hardly the hub of the British Fishing Fleet…

      1. Newbury is perfect in my view as it’s always a mistake to have a minister responsible for national policy who is at risk of making decisions based on short term electoral pressure from his constituency rather than on what is right for the country. In any case fisheries don’t just relate to the harvesting sector. Recreational angling is worth far more to the economy and the marine environment is important to all of us regardless of where we live. Producer interests have been too influential for far too long and have often resulted in poor decisions leading to stock collapses.

  3. Ah yes the old angling is worth far more to the economy argument, why don’t you dip your hands into you pockets and pay for sea angling licenses then. And thanks to the EU destruction UK fishing industry I wouldn’t be surprised if the sale of ping pong bats was worth more to the economy. I guess your OK with the EU paying farmers to convert viable farm land into Golf courses as well. We should be increasing food production for the growing population not turning the Country into a play ground for the privileged and wealthy…

    1. Read the article again about how much of the fish landed in the UK is sold abroad and then tell me about feeding the country! Have a look at how much the UK fleet claims in grants from the EU and tell me about the destruction of the UK fishing industry by the EU!

  4. Read the article again Lee, particularly the bit about how much of the fish landed in the UK is sold abroad, and then tell me about feeding the country!

  5. My Father was a partner in Johnson Sea Enterprises, one of the largest privately owned fishing fleets on the south coast Directly employing 100’s of fishermen and fish market staff, In the 80’s my father and business partner’s wanted to expand the business and build a Fish Market and dedicated Fish Restaurant this would involve a move too Southampton from Portsmouth but the Southampton Trade unions and Council would have none of it, because they wouldn’t allow us to unload the fish from the Trawlers , My Father would have to pay Dockers to do the job, yet the Dockers refused to handle the smelly fish so the Fishermen would still have to unload themselves while the Dockers stood and watched and the same applied on the proposed fish market, So the move didn’t leave the drawing board.
    The Fish market in Portsmouth which had been leased from the council since the 70’s has now been turned into a storage facility for Ben Ainslie’s Americas Cup Yachts, without warning representatives from Portsmouth council marched into the Johnson’s office and declared we want you to leave and if you could leave by next week that would be helpful, that’s after 40 years they were given a few days to up sticks and move, and against local opinion Ainslie’s building was even started before planning permission was granted ,
    yet another Rich man’s hobby wins the day.

    To my point, If you actively handicap and remove the outlets for the public to purchase quality seafood it’s not surprising the that the UK public don’t eat fish, A few sorry looking Seafish posters in a fish and chip shop or the sad looking fish counter in Tesco’s is going to change that.

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