Fishermen Cautious on Gove’s Brexit Fisheries Bill, Fear Govt Betrayal, Endless ‘Transition’

Brexit
CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/AFP/Getty
JACK MONTGOMERY

Brexit-supporting Cabinet minister Michael Gove has vowed to take back control of Britain’s territorial waters in a new Fisheries Bill, and to devolve significant powers from the European Union to Scotland’s local parliament.

The British fishing industry has been hit exceptionally hard by EU membership, with Brussels deciding fishing stocks would be managed as a “common resource” shortly before Britain joined the EU — then the EEC — and allocating the country a very poor share of its own stocks.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost in the traditional, working-class industry as a result, with the blow falling particularly hard on Scotland, with Gove — a Scotsman himself — claiming his own father lost his business as a result of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Even the Scottish National Party, a nominally ‘nationalist’ left-wing party fiercely loyal to Brussels, has denounced the bloc’s impact on fishermen, with former First Minister of Scotland and party leader Alex Salmond saying it was “imperative that we remove the dead hand of Brussels mismanagement as soon as possible” more than a decade ago.

“The fishing industry is of vital importance to Scotland and that is why the Fisheries Bill, combined with our withdrawal from the EU, will give more decision-making powers to the Scottish Government,” Gove said when unveiling the bill, which should allow Britain to set its own quotas and days at sea, negotiating access for foreign trawlers in conjunction with devolved administrations.

“It will regenerate coastal communities, take back control of our waters and, through better conservation measures, allow our precious marine environment to thrive,” he added.

“Many who have fought for 25 years to escape the disastrous CFP thought we would never see this day,” commented Aaron Brown, founder of the grassroots Fishing for Leave campaign, in a statement on the announcement — although the group made it clear their welcome was “cautious”.

“[If the] legislation allows Britain to take back control of our waters, £6-8 billion of our [marine] resources, and decide access and management for our own national benefit as in Norway, Iceland, and Faroe, that is hugely welcome — but the devil is in the detail which we fear,” Brown explained.

“[T]he government admits this bill is subject to the wider negotiations — negotiations where, disgustingly, Theresa May proposes to re-obey the CFP after Brexit with an ever-extending transition [period] and a Chequers plan that will see the UK obey a ‘Common Rulebook’ — probably forever.”

Fishermen have previously expressed fears that their industry — already on the brink — could be “finished off” by the so-called ‘transition’ period the Prime Minister wants for two years after Britain officially leaves the EU, during which it will lose its representation in EU institutions but remain subject to all EU policies and regulations, including the CFP.

Skippers have warned the Government that many of them will not survive the impact of a discard ban planned to come into force during the transition — with some suggesting that this may be deliberate, as international rules dictate foreign vessels should be given access to fisheries that local industry does not have the capacity to make use of.

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