Failure to secure sovereign control over our fishing waters could break this government
It is not only important for the UK to decide who can fish in our waters, but also [to] revoke the EU’s power to set UK quotas, writes Sally-Ann Hart MP. | PA Images
The fisheries argument is an emotional, impassioned one about families, communities and livelihoods. It could make or break this government if we fail to get it right
The latest news on UK/EU post-Brexit trade deal negotiations points to fisheries being a sticking point in reaching agreement. Many argue that fisheries should not block a trade deal as the industry plays such a tiny part of the UK and EU economies and, therefore, it is not logical to risk the whole economy for something so inconsequential.
For those holding that view, they fail to grasp that standing up for our fisheries is not about the economy. It is about sovereignty and the very heart and souls of our local fishing communities. The fisheries argument is an emotional, impassioned one about people that cannot be financially quantified, but could make or break this government if we fail to get it right.
Take beautiful Hastings, in my coastal constituency, which is one of Britain’s oldest fishing ports. Boats have worked from the shingle beach, the Stade, in front of the Old Town for over a thousand years, providing Hastings with a valuable industry and now, its main tourist attraction. Hastings fishing community has medieval rights to use the Stade in perpetuity. On the Stade, there are around 25 boats which make up Britain’s biggest fleet of beach-launched fishing boats of under ten metres.
The history of this fishing community is deeply rooted in the very soul of Hastings and its community. Some families are said to have been fishing here since before the Norman Conquest in 1066. There is no doubt that the generational history of fishing creates a strong sense of place and pride in the local community.
For a seaside town, which has some of the worst levels of deprivation in the country, that sense of pride is vital and the way our fishermen and the UK fishing industry are treated by national government is fundamental when it comes to voting for a Prime Minister and their local MP.
Fishermen are concerned that their plight can be easily ignored by the party that betrayed them in in the ‘70s
We know that most British fishermen voted to leave the EU in order to extricate themselves from the Common Fisheries Policy and to ensure the UK has sovereign control over our territorial fishing waters. The CFP almost destroyed our nation’s fishing communities. My local fishermen have explained to me that, over the decades, distrust has built up with successive UK governments. Many fishermen believe that they, their families, communities and livelihoods were sacrificed to secure accession to the Common Market.
As fishing represents only 0.05% of the UK’s GDP (it used to be much larger), fishermen are concerned that their plight can be easily ignored by the party that betrayed them in in the ‘70s. It is not just about access to UK waters, but also quotas. Quota fairness is fundamental – equitable opportunity for people who actually fish. Currently, EU vessels benefit by a ratio of six to one under the CPF, so this is why it is not only important for the UK to decide who can fish in our waters, but also why revoking the EU’s powers to set UK quotas is fundamental.
Importantly, 76% of the British fishing industry is made up of small boats which only get 2% of the allocated quota. For example, off the Hastings coast between Hythe Bay to the Isle of Wight, the UK is currently permitted to land 155 tonnes of cod, whilst France is allowed 1,880 tonnes - almost twelve times more. For pollock, for every tonne Britain lands, the EU can take two hundred and sixty three times more from British waters.
Hastings, along with other UK fishing communities, has an historic, present and future connection with fishing which must be allowed to flourish as we leave the EU. Attracting and retaining youth and supporting family-based fishing enterprises is essential.
Fishermen in Hastings and Rye and all around the UK must have faith that this Conservative government will not sacrifice them again. I am confident that our Prime Minister, looking at his stance on fisheries and UK sovereignty, will provide the basis for that trust to be restored and built upon.
Sally-Ann Hart is the Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye.