*This article first appeared in The i*
By Catherine Stihler
So we’re going to ‘take back control’ of our fishing waters, the Brexiteers have declared.
It won’t happen until after the Brexit transition period however, which has so upset Nigel Farage and his friends that they dumped some dead fish into the Thames yesterday in one of the more ridiculous PR stunts of modern times.
But there’s a significant ‘catch’ for Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and the protesting Scottish Tories: leaving the EU is unlikely to be beneficial for our vital fishing industry.
Just like the claims about the NHS printed on the side of Boris’s Brexit bus, the arguments from the Leave campaign are misleading.
And the SNP should also reflect on its own hypocrisy: it boasts of being a committed pro-EU party, yet doesn’t want Scotland to be part of the Common Fisheries Policy (CPF). Those who think they can cherry-pick from the EU table will quickly be found wanting.
First things first: those pesky fish don’t respect international borders. They have an unfortunate habit of swimming wherever they like.
So joint-management between neighbouring countries is the only way to prevent over-fishing from depleting stocks.
Many species spend stages of their life cycles in different countries’ waters and their spawning grounds are often in a different area from where they are caught when mature.
That’s why joint decisions have to be reached on fishing rights and it’s why what has been agreed must then be enforced.
And regardless of whether we are in or out of the EU, Britain has signed up to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which means countries must jointly manage fish stocks that migrate between two or more countries’ waters. This applies to more than 100 of the stocks present in UK waters.
To further complicate the argument for the Brexiteers, many of the rights of fishermen from other European countries to fish in UK waters – and vice versa – derive from rules that pre-date our entry into the EU in 1973.
Perhaps we should just close our seas to foreign vessels? Well, our neighbours would certainly retaliate and ban British fishermen, and could even slap tariffs on exports. What is our biggest export market for fish? The EU, of course.
So it’s quite clear that when it comes to fishing we need to negotiate with other EU countries. At the moment, we can do that as an equal partner around the table; after Brexit we risk being one voice against many.
We will also no longer be party to the agreements the EU has negotiated with third countries, not least Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
The CFP may be unpopular with many, but it has delivered a number of standards which tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
On top of that, the EU regulates standards to give shoppers assurances about the quality and integrity of fish, and it will be necessary to still meet those standards in order to sell into the EU market.
Ultimately, if Brexit goes ahead, those who expect a transformational change for our fishing industry are set to be disappointed. In fact, in a number of crucial aspects, the British fishing industry could even be worse off outside the European Union.