Having been born and raised in the beautiful constituency of South East Cornwall, fishing has and will always be an integral part of not only my life- but the livelihoods of so many of my constituents.
From being an active members of the Fishermen’s Association to being elected in 2010, I have attempted to put the concerns of hard working fishermen at the heart of policy discussions here in Westminster.
The UK Fishing Industry today bears no resemblance to the vibrant Industry of the early 1970s prior to our membership of the European Economic Community.
Many will say that some decline is due to the loss of our distant water fleet when Iceland declared a 200 mile Fisheries limit. Others believe that this is down to our Membership of what was known at the time as the European Economic Community.
The Common Fisheries Policy was drawn up by the six original Members just prior to the Membership applications of the United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland and Norway. Indeed it is claimed that Norway did not join because of the Common Fisheries Policy.
Enshrined in every Basic Regulation after that time is the Principle of, “Equal Access to a Common Resource”.
When the United Kingdom declared a 200 mile limit in 1976 at a reaction to the Iceland decision, negotiations took place in partnership with Ireland for a 100 mile exclusive fisheries zone. This was subsequently reduced to 50 miles but in the end the negotiations came to nothing and the 6 and 12 mile limit remained the only area with restricted access.
Agreement was not reached on how to manage the declining fish stock amongst the EU Member States until 1983. This is the system of Total Allowable catches and quotas that remains today. It was felt that the EU Fleet should be reduced to balance the catching capacity to the available fish stocks in order to ensure the industry remained economically viable.
When the Iberian States (Spain and Portugal) joined the Community in 1986 it was acknowledged the EU fleet became much larger but there was very little domestic resource to increase the size of the EU resource. There was derogation which prevented these new nations from benefiting from the Equal Access to a Common Resource and a share of the EU Total Allowable catches for a further 6 years.
Spain had third country agreements, a diet which traditionally included the mass consumption of under sized baby fish and an aging but very large fleet of fishing vessels. Some vessels had previously registered on the British Fishing Vessel Register to gain access to the UK quota. These vessels were known as quota hoppers. The UK government tried to remove these vessels who were catching UK quota but landing it in Spain. Spain appealed to the European Court of Justice and the UK courts decision was overturned.
The result I have already mentioned is that the UK fishing fleet is a shadow of its former self. Every week when I talk to fishermen in my constituency, I hear of the worries so many face on a daily basis. These are families who have invested their entire lives into fishing the waters around Cornwall, but it is a concern felt by fisherman across our country
As David Cameron pushes for better terms for the British people in his renegotiation talks with the EU, we all have a unique opportunity to finally put fishing at the heart of discussions. Now is the time for the Prime Minister to rectify the dreadful mistakes of the past and include restoration of national control over the UK 200 mile median line limit so we can operate freely just like our neighbours in Iceland and Norway.
Sheryll Murray is the Member of Parliament for South East Cornwall.
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