‘Once in a lifetime’ chance to capitalise on fisheries changes

I WRITE in response to Nick Mann’s articles in your issues of Wednesday 11 November and Friday 13 November.

I must firstly state that I have no commercial interest at all in fisheries. I am a recreational angler and a very concerned Guernsey citizen, concerned about the future of the Guernsey fishing industry and about maximising Guernsey’s revenue from our fishing waters. I am concerned about the complete lack of information from our government about our fishery policy. I fully appreciate that, during international negotiations, there must be a degree of privacy. We are, however, entitled to a clear statement of our government’s intent for the future of our island fisheries.

Guernsey now has a ‘once in a lifetime’ chance to capitalise on the imminent changes in European fisheries. If properly managed we will be able to revitalise our dying local fishing industry, provide a prosperous career path for young fishermen and provide a new income stream for Guernsey.

Guernsey, until about 2015, only had a territorial waters limit with protected fishing of six miles. It was then extended to 12 miles, but the French can still fish up to six miles off our coasts but we cannot fish closer than 12 miles from the French coast.

During the 40 and more years of the iniquitous EU common fisheries policy, the EU boats have been allowed to fish up to six miles from the UK coastline, but UK boats have only been allowed to fish up to 12 miles from the EU coastline. What was ‘common’ about that?

From 1 January the UK will insist on exclusive rights to its 12-mile limit and so must we.

The UK, in common with all other nations, has an Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 miles. Where nations are closer than 200 miles, the border is decided by the mid points between the land masses. I have checked online, and all the UK’s dependent territories such as the Cayman Islands, Pitcairn and the Falkland Islands all have an EEZ. The Channel Islands do not have an EEZ because, in 1974, France claimed all the waters outside our six-mile territorial waters as their EEZ and this was not contested at the time by the UK.

Guernsey does not have the legal clout to challenge that 1974 ruling, but the UK does. If we had a full EEZ we would control the waters to half-way across the Channel from Alderney to the north and a substantial slice to the west. This would vastly increase our ability to sell commercial fishing licences.

The UK’s 200-mile EEZ technically stretches south from the median line mid-Channel to Alderney. The UK could claim exclusive fishing rights to that area. We must encourage them to do so and transfer the licence income from that area to Guernsey.

The UK, very correctly, intends to control the fisheries in its EEZ and to charge annual fees for licences for non-UK vessels to fish in the UK EEZ. Our sovereignty derives entirely from the UK and the recovery of the UK’s full sovereignty by leaving the EU is of great importance and value to us. We should be working hand in hand with the UK to ensure that we follow the same control and licensing arrangements as they do. We are too small to manage this on our own and will need back-up from the Royal Navy.

As things stand, I am led to believe that France is threatening to blockade their ports to Guernsey vessels, stop us from selling fish in France, stop trade and stop supplying electricity via the cable connection. I further believe that Guernsey is negotiating with France to grant, free of charge, licences for some 140 French vessels to fish in our waters.

We have barely 20 active commercial fishing boats left. 140 boats from France is an armada and will destroy what little fish stocks that remain and destroy what is left of our local fishing industry. It is an appalling deal that simply does not pass the smell test.

We must not negotiate under threat. That would be capitulation, not negotiation.

Firstly, we sell a tiny amount of fish to France and already send a lot to the UK markets so we should not respond to that threat, but simply send all our fish to the UK. We do not actually do much trading with France. All our commercial trade is via the UK so we should not respond to that threat. If France refuses to sell us electricity, they will be the loser. We can revert to diesel generation until they come to their senses.

France should be told that if they blockade their ports to us, they will not be offered any licences at all, we will sell them to others. Following the passing of the new UK Fisheries Bill we can honestly pass the buck and tell the French that we cannot give or sell any licences until we see what the UK is doing, and that we will then follow their lead. This is a very sensible approach that will preserve our fisheries for the prime benefit of our fishermen, and the people of Guernsey.

Any future attempt by the French to blockade St Peter Port Harbour should be firmly met by our very under-utilised Police Armed Response Unit on board our own fishery protection vessel, arresting and impounding the offending vessels. Can you imagine the French response if we were to blockade one of their ports? It would be the army and the CRS and bloodshed.

One fact is certain. From 1 January, the French will have dramatically reduced access to UK waters and there will be a lot of angry and belligerent French fishermen who will flood into our waters, legally or illegally. We will rely on the Royal Navy to police our waters until the French accept that conditions have legally and permanently changed.

There are two other relevant facts that may surprise and interest your readers.

Firstly, when North Sea oil was found in the early 1970s the UK and Norwegian governments met to decide the median line. Having drawn it by international standards, the Norwegians complained that it was unfair as they had the deep Norwegian trench in their area that could not be drilled with then-current technology. A kindly British civil servant offered to move the median line to the west by the width of the Norwegian trench. That give-away contained nearly all the major Norwegian oil fields and has so far cost the UK about one trillion pounds in lost oil revenue. Within two years of that ‘deal’, technology had advanced to allow production in the deeper waters of the Norwegian trench. The moral is, keep a close eye on your negotiators.

The second fact – and major reason that we are so short of fish – was an EU gift to Denmark. When the CFP was set up, the Danes complained that they had a very small area of fisheries and were missing out, so the EU said that they could catch as many sand eels as they wanted. The sand eels are the major bait for most of the species in our area and live in shoals on the bottom with all the young cod, bass and turbot, etc. The Danes catch so many sand eels that they pump them ashore and use them as pig food and fertiliser. It is an enormous scandal. No bait, no fish.

R. WHARTON,

Chairman, Boatworks+

Editor’s footnote: A Policy & Resources spokesperson replies:

There are a number of factual errors in your correspondent’s letter but we won’t address those each individually here. The UK and EU negotiations are at a sensitive stage and it would not be appropriate to comment in detail. However, an update statement will be provided to the States of Deliberation at its meeting being held on 25 November 2020. This will include the objectives of the fisheries aspects to this negotiation.

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