George Eustice, the Fishing Minister, never ceases to astonish one. I suppose one could say that about a lot of politicians but he is a prime example of a man who quite clearly has not understood anything about his brief. How else could one explain his statements as quoted in the Plymouth Herald?

In his desire to destroy support for UKIP some fishermen in the Plymouth area he announced that those fishermen (and, presumably, others) are better off within the common fisheries policy than they would be outside it. Does he mean that if Britain was outside the EU, outside the CFP legislation would have to be passed by people like him and he is manifestly not fit for the job? Somehow we do not believe that but that is what his statement sounds like.

“One thing I would say is that EU rules are far too prescriptive and create too many unintended obstacles,” said Mr Eustice, who represents his home constituency of Cambourne, Redruth and Hayle in Cornwall.

“There is a common EU objective to fish sustainably but there is now more flexibility with how we deal with that nationally.

“For example, if a fisherman finds he’s caught far more haddock than he expected, then he can place that catch within their cod quota instead. With that [negotiation], we can change policy for the better.”

Cod quotas were due to be cut by 65 per cent last year, said Mr Eustice, but successful EU lobbying reduced it to a 26 per cent cut.

The Cornishman said he sympathised with fisherman who have “their boats tied up because they have used all their quota” but there was a need to “show restraint” if the fishing industry was to prosper.

Surely a Minister whose job it is to know about the fishing industry must realize that the whole problem with quotas, though important to those it affects, is not the cause but the effect. The cause of the problem remains the common fisheries policy, a centralized, political structure in which decisions are taken by 28 member states for reasons that often have nothing to do with fishing.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Oh yes, there are alternatives

Nobody knows exactly when that IN/OUT EU referendum will take place and whether it will do so at all. The Labour Party is refusing to commit itself or, to be quite precise, its Leader is refusing to commit himself, assuring all and sundry, including, it appears, members of the Shadow Cabinet, that there is no need for such a referendum but none at all. Should his party win the May election, on the other hand, he may well change his mind.

It is quite likely that the SNP Leader has ambivalent feelings about a referendum of any kind at the moment and it is hard to tell what the Liberal-Democrats think though, it is believed, that most of them favour some kind of a referendum. (They, too, burned their fingers on the AV plebiscite.)

The Conservative Leader has given us assurances that there will be an IN/OUT referendum, probably in 2017 though he is also promising some kind of negotiations in order to introduce radical reform in the European Union. Good luck with that. So far, the only change and reform in the EU has moved in one direction and it is not the one most people in the UK want. We can agree on that, though the same opinion polls that tell us so, also tell us that far fewer people are prepared to vote to leave the organization with which they are seriously dissatisfied, namely the EU.

Let us assume that there will be a referendum, probably in 2017, perhaps a little later, depending on whether the EU decides to have another treaty or not. If we, that is the people who have looked at the present situation, which includes the disaster called the common fisheries policy and have looked at all past attempts to bring in meaningful reforms and the failure of those attempts and have decided that this construct cannot be changed and the UK would be a good deal better off outside it are to win the referendum, we need to produce cogent arguments. As Alex Salmond found out in the recent Independence Referendum, they have to be very cogent, indeed, and reliance on vague promises of great benefits whose source is unknown will be insufficient.

Already we have heard noises from the supporters of the status quo about there being no alternative; about Britain (the country with the fifth largest economy in the world) being too small to survive outside a big block; about the impossibility of making our voice heard on important issues outside the EU; and so on.

This blog has pointed out on a number of occasions (too numerous to link to) that, far from that being the case, it is within the EU, within the common fisheries policy that we cannot make our voices heard. Norway and Iceland, even Greenland or, rather, Denmark on behalf of Greenland, negotiate themselves on matters to do with the North Atlantic fisheries, yet they are all much smaller than Britain; Russia may not be smaller but its economy is, considerably so. The UK, on the other hand, does not negotiate - the EU does and it does so on behalf of the 28 member states.

Many of us have been saying all this for some time through Save Britain's Fish and the Fishermen's Association Limited but have frequently been pushed to the fringes of the political debate. There is, however, a change in the political air.

This week there were two events in London, one an evening panel discussion at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and one a half-day conference, actually in the European Parliament building (formerly the Conservative Central Office), organized by the Conservative MEP David Campbell-Bannerman. Both dealt with the problem of alternatives to EU membership. What can Britain do if she leaves this somewhat sclerotic, economically laggard and politically undemocratic structure?

Not all the alternatives were covered but even the ones that were: taking up our WTO membership rather than letting the EU negotiate on our behalf, re-joining EFTA, trying to join the EEA (European Economic Area), which would have some serious disadvantages, staying in a customs union with the EU or signing a special agreement while acting as an independent WTO member, all have one thing in common that is of interest to readers of this blog: all of them would release the UK fishing industry from the dead grip of Brussels and hand it back to Britain, its Parliament and the industry's members.

The point is that there are many alternatives to the EU and they can be investigated and discussed. The notion that we have nowhere to go and had better stay where we are "for fear of finding something worse" is ridiculous and needs to be destroyed.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Fishing protection

Frequently, the best way of getting information is by asking questions, written or oral in the Houses of Parliament, particularly the House of Lords. On February 2 Lord West of Spithead asked:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the reduction in the number of offshore patrol vessels available for fishing protection on their meeting their responsibilities within the United Kingdom economic exclusion zone.

It is worth noting that what is also at stake is the equal observance of the many various rules. HMG in the shape of Lord de Mauley replied:

Responsibility for fisheries protection in English waters lies with the Maritime Management Organisation (MMO). Fishery protection services in English and Welsh waters are provided by the Royal Navy (RN) under a formal agreement with the MMO. The service is provided by 3 offshore patrol vessels of the Fisheries Protection Squadron.

The MMO has identified that the provision of 500 days at sea is currently sufficient to enable the UK to meet its obligations for at sea surveillance and inspection under the Common Fisheries Policy. This assessment is kept under constant review as enforcement obligations and priorities change.

As the following figures show this minimum commitment has been maintained for the last 2 years and is projected to be delivered again for the year 2014 – 15.

2012 – 13 562 daysbr/>
2013 – 14 512.5 days

2014 – 15 509 days (projected)

The financial contribution to the RN for this service has been reduced in return for a move from dedicated 24 hour fishery protection days to 9 hour days. These days enable surveillance and inspection of fishing vessels to be undertaken during key fishing periods. The minimum number of days required has been maintained during the current financial year despite the fact that one offshore patrol vessel has been deployed elsewhere for part of the year.

Well, that is very nice, of course but it does not precisely answer the question about the impact. We are merely being assured, as so often before, that whatever the government does is perfectly adequate. Past experience, on the whole, would indicate otherwise.