Monday, 13 November 2017

Who will carve up the fishing Brexit bonus?

From my Daily Record column 10/11/17

To the Fishmonger’s Hall, for a briefing on the bright future of fishing under Brexit. 

The splendid building is home of The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, one of the great Livery Companies of London.

The Livery Companies were a posh name for the trading cartels that historically carved up business within the City of London boundaries.

It's a suitable venue for fishermen’s leaders who are the most enthusiastic supporters of leaving the EU and the shackles of the Commons Fisheries Policy.

They see fishing as the Brexit poster boy, with only a few months of transition out of the CFP after the UK’s March 2019 departure.

That’s to be followed by talks around a “grown-up” table that December to decide who gets access to the British fishing grounds. 

They don’t doubt the UK government will deliver on this. Everyone is aware of the “political dynamics” as Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation puts it diplomatically.

That’s shorthand for eight of your Tory MPs in Scotland were elected on the back of Brexit-voting fishing communities, Mrs May.

Any sniff of betrayal and you can kiss goodbye to a Tory majority and see the SNP racing back in the North East faster than a grey seal can swallow a half ton of haddock.

Fishing is only 0.1 per cent of the UK’s economy but is an important symbol of taking back control, to borrow a phrase.

Fishing leaders anticipate a last-minute Brussels ambush in Brexit negotiations to demand continued access to UK waters for EU fleets as the price for a wider trade deal.

Fishermen are having none of that and the UK government is in delicate position, my shorthand for when fishermen have a hold of politicians by the, er, gills.

The guildmen serving breakfast assure us that by controlling UK waters there will be fish for all. 

What they mean is a bigger share of the fish stocks for the cartel of supermarket-sized trawlers that prowl UK seas.

The bizarre quota system of fishing has succeeded only in concentrating catching power in the hands of fewer and fewer powerful fishing interests and family businesses which deploy ever more efficient ships to hoover up the seas.  

For all their talk of reviving Britain’s coastal communities fishing organisations show no willingness to loosen the grip the big boys have on the quota. 
Any Scottish politician serious about preventing a Brexit “power grab” should stand ready to challenge big fishing interests.

If Brexit means Brexit there should be a UK-wide strategy to revive small and medium scale operations from the Telford harbours and towns long ago left behind by the super-trawlers.

It will mean taking some of the power, and some of the profit, away from the big boys in the guild hall.

Over to you Ian Duncan, Michael Gove, Fergus Ewing and any MP and MSP with a coastal constituency.   

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