UK to 'take back control' of waters after exiting fishing convention

By By Kevin
On Monday ministers will trigger withdrawal from the London fisheries convention, signed in 1964 before the UK joined the European Union, to start the two-year process to leave the agreement. The convention allows vessels from the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of each other’s coastlines.
UK to 'take back control' of waters after exiting fishing convention

The government has announced its withdrawal from an arrangement that allows other countries to fish in British waters. The environment secretary, Michael Gove, claimed the UK was “taking back control”.

On Monday ministers will trigger withdrawal from the London fisheries convention, signed in 1964 before the UK joined the European Union, to start the two-year process to leave the agreement. The convention allows vessels from the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of each other’s coastlines.

“We will be saying we’re taking back control,” Gove said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. “We will have control. We can decide the terms of access.”

Gove said leaving the European Union would involve exiting the EU common fisheries policy, which allows all European countries access between 12 and 200 nautical miles off the UK and sets quotas for how much fish nations can catch.

“When we leave the European Union we will become an independent political state and that means that we can then extend control of our waters up to 200 miles or the median line between Britain and France, and Britain and Ireland,” he said.

“One critical thing about the common fisheries policy is that it has been an environmental disaster. And one of the reasons we want to change it is that we want to ensure that we can have sustainable fish stocks for the future … I think it’s important that we recognise that leaving the European Union is going to help the environment.”

According to 2015 figures, the UK fishing industry is made up of more than 6,000 vessels, landing 708,000 tonnes of fish worth £775m. About 10,000 tonnes of fish were caught by other countries under the London convention, worth an estimated £17m.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, welcomed the government’s decision, saying it was “an important part of establishing the UK as an independent coastal state with sovereignty over its own exclusive economic zone”.

Ben Stafford, head of campaigns at WWF, said achieving sustainable fishing was about “much more than which country fishes where”. He said: “It is about ensuring that fishermen use the right fishing gear, that fishing takes place at levels that maintain sustainable stocks and that we pioneer ways to monitor what is happening at sea in order to understand the impacts of fishing.

“Leaving the EU means we could get these things right, but we will still need to cooperate with our neighbours, as fish do not recognise lines on a map.”

Will McCallum, Greenpeace UK’s head of oceans, said: “For years, successive UK governments have blamed Brussels for their own failure to support the small-scale, sustainable fishers who are the backbone of our fishing fleet.

“If Brexit is to herald a better future for our fishers, the new environment secretary, Michael Gove, must keep the 2015 Conservative party manifesto commitment to rebalance fishing quotas in favour of ‘small-scale, specific locally-based fishing communities’.”

Tom West, a consultant at the environmental law firm ClientEarth, described the move as a negotiating tactic. “As a country outside the EU, we need to consider how we can best cooperate with our neighbours rather than unilaterally withdrawing from all agreements in the hope that standing alone will make us better,” he said.

“Many fish stocks in UK waters are shared with our neighbours and so need cooperation and shared management.”

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