Something fishy going on at the BBC's Today Programme

The UK's fishing industry is in dire need of assistance but after nearly 40 years of Common Fisheries Policy, shouldn't we be looking for an alternative rather than reform?

by Rory Broomfield on 6 February 2013 13:25

The BBC’s Today Programme is not unfamiliar with allegations of pro-EU bias. But even by those dubious standards, a report released today smelt very fishy indeed.

Roger Harrabin's report looked into the decline of fish stocks in Devon and reported that “something of a peace has broken out” and that there is a sense “times are improving, especially if the EU can agree on major reforms to fishing.”

It wasn't made clear though that the greatest innovation from this has come through the UK legislative process. Projects such as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) and No Take Zones (NTZ) are schemes designed by the UK to increase fish stocks in time and, although the Lyme Bay Mariane Conversation project was mentioned, this is just one of many that those in the UK have instituted to fight back at the EU-led onslaught on UK fisheries.

The report also did not take into account news in today's Daily Express that there is an “outcry over EU plot to seize control of our seabed”. In pursuing what the paper calls a “land grab” policy that looks to change the definition of EU waters to include the seabed, this EU legislation would, rather than protect fish stocks and help nurture their recovery, allow boats to trawl the seabed off the UK coast for species such as mussels.

The article suggests that this puts the EU on a collision course with the Crown Estate, which manages half of the foreshore around the UK coastline out to 12 nautical miles.

We should also remember the damage that the EU has inflicted on the area, and the nation, regarding fisheries. Although Harrabin recognises that there are now only two full time fishermen in the area, he doesn't illustrate how fish stocks in Devon, and the rest of the country, have been affected by the Common Fisheries Policy.

This policy has allowed foreign fisherman almost free rein of the UK fish stock and has left our shores almost barren.

Indeed, a 2010 study by the University of York and the Marine Conservation Society found that in England and Wales, 19th century fishermen were landing four times as much as today. And in 1937, at the peak of the UK's fishing industry, the catch was 14 times what it is now.

This study by Ruth Thurstan, Simon Brockington and Callum Roberts, illustrate that the UK fishing industry has been in dramatic decline, and that the UK's modern fishermen must work 17 times harder for the same catch as their sail-powered Victorian counterparts. It states, worryingly, that the availability of bottom-living fish having fallen by 94 percent. 

In contrast, Norway is now the world's second largest seafood exporter – Europe's largest – and produces the equivalent of 25 million meals world-wide. Being able to control its seabed has allowed the Norwegians to produce over 600,000 tonnes of farmed fish and shellfish each year, employ 30,000 people in the industry – 14,000 of whom work in fishing – and effectively double the export value of fish to over NOR 10 billion (£3.5 billion) per year.

Indeed, Norway is now the largest exporter of cod and salmon to France and Portugal and has seen growth in sales of fish to Russia, China and Brazil.

In not considering the bigger picture, Roger Harrabin is clearly struggling to see the wood from the trees – or the salmon from the sea. The UK's fishing industry is in dire need of assistance but after nearly 40 years of Common Fisheries Policy, shouldn't we be looking for an alternative rather than reform?

Rory Broomfield is Deputy Director of The Freedom Association. He tweets @rorybroomfield

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