Foreign boats catch three-quarters of Westcountry fish
Fishing boats from other EU countries caught nearly three quarters of the fish and shellfish landed from waters around England, Ireland and Wales in the three years 2012-14, a new analysis shows.
For the UK as a whole, including Scotland, the figure was 58%, equating to around 650,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth more than £400million a year.
In contrast, UK fishing boats fishing elsewhere in EU waters, landed on average 90,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth about £100million, a report by the NAFC Marine Centre UHI in Shetland for the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation shows.
Fishermen’s leaders said this gave weight to the case for leaving the EU, allowing the UK to assert control over its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Jim Portus, chief executive of the South West Fish Producers Organisation, said that in Westcountry waters many Spanish fishing vessels were UK-registered, but took all their economic benefits home.
Mr Portus, along with Nick Prust, the SWFPO chairman, and other members are meeting Defra minister George Eustice in London next week.
“We’ll be holding the minister’s feet to the fire,” Mr Portus said.
“We will be presenting a list of priorities that are considered important to our organisation.
Near the top of their priority list is to get rid of “quota-hopping” – the practice of Spanish and Dutch boats flying British flags in order to catch part of the EU fish stocks allocated to Britain.
But at the top of the list will be to ensure that Britain triggers “Article 50″ – the clause which begins the formal process of leaving the EU – and “divorcing” the UK from the treaties which control what happens in British waters, Mr Portus said.
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A UK Government spokesperson said yesterday: “Our fishing industry is immensely valuable and supporting our fishermen across the UK will form an important part of our exit from the EU.
“This means ensuring a profitable fishing industry, sustainable stocks and a healthy marine environment.”
Molly Scott Cato, Green Party MEP for the South West and Gibraltar, said: “The main decision
that was made in Brussels in terms of fisheries policy was always the total allowable catch.
“This was based on scientific evidence about how much fish could be caught without threatening fish stocks and these limits should continue post Brexit.
“Britain will still need to negotiate access to fisheries with its neighbours.
“We will continue to be bound by international law, which requires that states to cooperate in the creation of measures for the conservation and management of fish stocks in shared waters.
“The World Trade Organisation route that is favoured by hard Brexiteers might mean even greater restrictions on UK fisheries.
“And in the Brexit negotiations it is quite possible that the UK government will trade away fisheries rights to protect other industries it values more highly.
“During our membership of the EU, fisheries policy has always been made in both London and Brussels and many decisions about the allocation of quota that have irritated fishing communities were made by the British government.”