Friday, October 22, 2004

Leaving the CFP – the Commission’s response 2

Following our Blog on the Franz Fischler’s response to the Conservative Party policy of repatriating the CFP, there have been a number of excitable responses on the Eurosceptic sites about blowing Spanish fishing vessels out of the water, and sundry other mayhem, all of which rather misses the point.

The actual point is that, while the intention is to repatriate the policy, this does not necessarily mean excluding fishing vessels from EU member states from British waters.

Here, there is not only the CFP to consider but international law in general, and the question of grandfather rights. Fishing vessels from other states have had access to our waters long before the EEC was even dreamed of, and have acquired rights which transcend the current EU arrangements.

It would be unlikely, therefore, that the UK would seek to exclude these vessels and, for the time that it took to sort out new arrangements, the status quo in terms of access would almost certainly continue, not least because British vessels also have rights in waters outside our own exclusive economic zone – which must also be protected.

However, there are two other issues. Firstly, many of the species which abound in our waters are either not normally exploited by our fleets, or have limited commercial sales in this country. Hake is one and herring is another. Secondly, because of the run-down of the British fleet, there is not currently the capacity to exploit these stocks.

On both counts, therefore, it would not make commercial sense to exclude fleets which can profitably exploit stocks, and their access would almost certainly continue.

The central issue, therefore, is not one of access, but one of control. Instead of enforcing EU law, the fisheries protection service would again be enforcing British law and, inasmuch as we already have vessels (and aircraft) at sea enforcing fisheries law, very little actually need change. If we need more enforcement vessels quickly, we can do what the Icelanders did during the Cod Wars, and impress fast fishing vessels, with suitable conversions.

That notwithstanding, there is no reason to expect that vessels from other states would be unwilling to co-operate. The fisheries in the Falklands, in this context, is run by the Falklands Isles Council, with British support, but the main "client" is the Spanish fleet, which has an admirable record of compliance.

In UK waters, the problem with the CFP is not only that it is a common policy, but it is also a very bad one, poorly enforced. Following the example from the Faroes, where they have managed to "square the circle" and increase both the fishing effort and the residual biomass, it is not unreasonable to argue that, with better management, the decline in stocks can be reversed, affording much improved fishing opportunities.

In short, there are more than enough fish to go round, and every reason for continuing to allow foreign fleets into our waters, albeit with the rule better and more fairly enforced.

What will probably change is that foreign vessels would be required to pay a licence fee, to cover the costs of enforcement and to compensate for the economic value of the fish extracted. This is common in most commercial fisheries so the UK adopting this practice would hardly be exceptional.

In terms of our negotiations with current member states, such a regime would actually ease the way considerably. We would be able to offer three options. First, the status quo option, where the CFP continues. Secondly, the fishing states fight Britain’s repatriation. Thirdly, those nations co-operate with Britain to develop a new fishing regime under national control.

In the first instance, everyone gets the same share of a diminishing asset. In the second, the foreign fleets get nothing. In the third, they get a reduced share of an increasing asset, amounting to an overall increase "take" and improved, long-term profitability.

At a political level, the other member states will have to make decisions which best serve their own national interests. Given the three options, which one to chose is a "no-brainer". Repatriation would not only be in the interests of the UK but also in the interests of other nations which exploit our waters.

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