In the last 30 years, the UK fleet has almost halved and we’re now a net importer of fish.

Graham Charles Lear
9 min readJun 4, 2020
Zeeland fishing trawler

IMO: 8901913

Name: ZEELAND

Vessel Type — Generic: Fishing

Vessel Type — Detailed: Fishing Vessel

Status: Active

MMSI: 244583000

Call Sign: PIWT

Flag: Netherlands [NL]

Gross Tonnage: 6128

Summer DWT: 5162 t

Length Overall x Breadth Extreme: 113.97 x 17.25 m

Year Built: 1989

Home Port: SCHEVENINGEN

Under the EU our fishing industry has been decimated. Below I present facts researched from the UK’s official Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and its official antecedent organisations, from the EU’s official statistics agency Eurostat, and from DEFRA, the government department responsible for fisheries.

I also present the comments of the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, former Secretary of State and recognised as a British and European expert on fisheries.

“This idea that the EU must have rights over another country’s resources
even to contemplate free trade is utterly preposterous

What are the UK’s and EU’s legal positions?

On 31 December 2020, the UK will automatically become an independent coastal state. The UK’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) will then apply. The UK will automatically regain exclusive sovereign rights over all waters and resources within its EEZ under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Without an explicit agreement to the contrary, the EU has no legal right to fish in UK waters after 2020, nor to claim inflated quotas for resources that are predominantly in British waters. It will be forced under international laws and conventions to reduce the amount of fish its member states’ fleets can catch in all other waters — dramatically.

The EU’s current position is that it is demanding that the UK must “uphold existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and traditional activity of the Union fleet.” In other words, it wants full and unconditional access to the UK’s waters and its fish, exactly as if the United Kingdom were still an EU member state.

The EU’s impact on our fishing and coastal communities

In the last 30 years, the UK has lost an average of 172 boats per year from the fleet

That’s an average of more than three boats per week, gone

In some years, as many as 20 boats per week were mothballed or scrapped

In all, the UK’s fishing fleet has almost halved in 30 years

All of this has happened under
the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy

How can a nation surrounded by sea be turned into a net importer of fish?

1990 the UK exported 53% more fish than it imported

2018 the UK imported 78% more fish than it exported

How did all this happen? It’s called the EU’s “Common Fisheries Policy”

Here are some examples of the EU’s “take” of British fish, according to figures from the EU Commission and DEFRA. Of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) in the southern North Sea, the EU receives:

93% of the sole, catching 62% in British waters, or 7,750 tonnes

88% of horse mackerel, catching 76% in British waters, or 9,576 tonnes

91% of herring, catching 81% in British waters, or 221,000 tonnes

What is Boris Johnson’s policy on fisheries?

Responding to a question in the House of Commons on 22 October 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“I can confirm that we will take back 100% control of the spectacular marine wealth of this country.”

In his Statement of 27 February 2020, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove confirmed that

As well as concluding a full FTA, we will require a wholly separate agreement on fisheries. We will take back control of our waters as an independent coastal state, and we will not link access to our waters to access to EU markets. Our fishing waters are our sovereign resource, and we will determine other countries’ access to our resources on our terms.

It’s always a good idea to ask a genuine expert

The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2012 until 2014, having been Northern Ireland Secretary before that. This is a man to be listened to on all matters relating to DEFRA business and the N.I. border, unless you have no interest in learning from someone with immense experience and knowledge.

Here is what the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP about the CFP

“Of all the environmental damage that European Union policy has done, perhaps the worst has been to fisheries.“It is a system that has forced fishermen to throw back more fish dead into the sea than they have landed. It has caused substantial degradation of the marine environment.“It has destroyed much of the fishing industry, with compulsory scrapping of modern vessels. It has devastated fishing communities.”

What about foreign vessels registering in the UK?

In 1983 the EU introduced Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas. Over the next few years something called “quota hopping” started. This was a method used by some national fleets to avoid the new quotas and restrictions.

In 1991 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) overruled a court decision in the UK. The ECJ legalised this practice of quota hopping. The ICJ's ruling set a precedent which allowed national fleets (in this case Spanish) to register their boats and buy quotas in other member states such as the UK to avoid fishing restrictions.

Leaving the CFP was Conservative policy from 2005

Back in 2005, it was the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP who wrote a Conservative ‘Green Paper’ which was adopted by the then Leader, Michael Howard. In it, the policy on fisheries was clearly laid out. This policy was to leave the Common Fisheries Policy, as part of a gradual withdrawal from aspects of EU membership. Interestingly, Mr Howard’s policy adviser at the time was a certain David Cameron.

We could all describe the EU’s extraordinary and internationally-unprecedented demands for continued full access to UK waters as wanting to “have their fish pie and eat it”.

My opinion on the UK’s response to the EU’s position is uncompromising. To mix metaphors in light of the EU’s rather faux-aristocratic French negotiator Michel Barnier, I would say “let them eat fishcake”.

For the UK with its long tradition of its coastal communities earning a living from the sea, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has been little short of a disaster.

Massive reductions in the UK’s fishing fleet, huge job losses, coastal communities transformed and depressed, and the marine environment threatened.

On top of this the UK, with some of the richest fishing waters in the world and proud history of being a maritime nation, has been reduced to being a net importer of fish, let that sink in for a few seconds. In what universe can anyone imagine the UK being a net importer of fish? Just look at the map. Last time I checked, the UK was an island surrounded by some of the richest fishing grounds in the world.

This isn’t about economics, it’s about freedom

It is true that the UK’s fishing fleet doesn’t currently generate an enormous income compared to, say, the car industry. It could, however, grow again if it is given the freedom and independence it once enjoyed. It is also worth mentioning that any analysis by Remainers of the GDP arising from the fishing industry never takes into account the GDP ‘spin-off’, from all those employed in coastal areas as a result of fishing. Nor do the metropolitan Remainers ever understand the importance of the way and the quality of life in the communities around our coast.

Sometimes, it’s best just to go back to basics. The British people voted to leave the European Union and take back control. If an island nation does not control its own waters, it is not a free, independent and sovereign nation.

Boris Johnson, his Government, and his head of trade negotiations David Frost show no signs of giving in to the EU over fisheries and our coastal waters and nor should they

I will be quite honest with you I have for years said that the UK must extract its self from the Common Fisheries Policy, with no fudges or compromises. For me, this is one of the many red lines involved in something called ‘Leaving the EU’ which the majority of the British people voted for in 2016.

I have on my computer a program called

MarineTraffic: Global Ship Tracking Intelligence | AIS Marine

It tracks and shows every shipping vessel in the world with precise locations night and day. It's easy to use and has a basic setting so people don't have to pay out unless they are professionally interested.

It has some basic tools on it that help people to navigate around, one of these tools is a filter that can isolate and only show shipping you are interested in following. In my case I have it set on fishing vessels worldwide, on the basic program you can also click on a vessel and it will show you a photo of the ship then you can choose to follow that ship where ever it goes quite useful in our case in following the very large fishing ships that empty an area of fish then move onto new fishing grounds then days later move back and empty the same area again. They can stay at sea for two weeks at a time doing this then go back to homeport which is usually the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland full and overflowing with tons of fish.

However, as well as these large fishing trawlers you see hundreds of smaller trawlers from France, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, and a few from Germany. It's an amazing sight when you see them and it shows the scale of the problem. What's more, when you see the scale you can't help noticing the scale of fishing by EU countrys around the Southern Irish waters.

I will be honest with you while knowing the scale of EU fishing plunder it shocked me to see it happening in real-time 365 days and nights a year and I just wonder if the Irish know how many are plundering their waters.

The Blue is British waters

Fishing trawlers

In the words of the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, which he gave yesterday

“We now have a fantastic chance to seize the palpable demand for British fish and restore an industry which has been so desperately let down by our years of EU membership. But the Government must remain determined in the face of the EU’s continuing obstinacy.

“The UK must establish sovereign control of all the waters and living marine resources in our EEZ, with any access given to foreign fleets negotiated on a strictly reciprocal, annual basis. We can bring in a discard-free fisheries management regime using the latest technology. We can harness the global demand for high-quality produce, realising the economic potential of UK fisheries and cultivating sustainable fish stocks.

“We can build thriving coastal communities alongside a flourishing marine environment for generations to come.”

Sources UK Marine Management Organisation (MMO) | Official UK government organisations which preceded the MMO | Eurostat | EU Commission | DEFRA | Hansard |Marine Trafic

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Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.