Fishing may no longer appear to be a significant industry as far as jobs or income go, but be in no doubt the British people care about it.
Ever since that bright cold morning of June 23, 2016, I’ve said that fishing – in particular taking back control of our territorial waters – would be the acid test of Brexit.
The problem is, our leaders have become so subordinate to Brussels they’ve forgotten how to act in our national interest.
The sorry tale of the decline of our commercial fishing industry goes right back to our entry to the Common Market in 1973. In a last minute deceit, the Brussels bureaucrats realised the UK had a fish resource that they would like a share of and wrote in a Common Fisheries Policy. The British negotiators were shocked and explained the implication of this to the then Prime Minister Edward Heath. Shamefully, he was so desperate to join the EEC that he instructed his team to swallow the lie.
Thus the sellout of our industry began, as the CFP principle of equal access to a common resource was installed. This devious, dishonest scheme literally handed over our territorial waters to Brussels without the British public ever being told about it.
The subsequent 45 years have seen the erosion of our coastal communities. In many cases, they have been forced to abandon the industry altogether and sold off their licences. It is easy to see why they have been forced into this appalling decision.
In the Channel, where the current conflict between French and British fishermen has reached such a dangerous level, our EU catch allocation is now beyond a joke.
In the cases of cod and the currently plentiful haddock, the UK fleet is allowed to catch less than 10 per cent of these species. No wonder our coastal towns so resolutely voted for Brexit.
In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, there was much talk of new investment in the fishing industry and a great feeling of optimism for the future. Yet despite some fine talk from the Prime Minister, the government has no intention of taking back what is rightfully ours under international law – a 200-mile economic zone.
From our Ministers, such as Michael Gove or George Eustice, we hear nothing but weasel words about getting a better deal. The reality is that for Monsieur Barnier, fishing is a red line. He insists on continued reciprocal access – by which he means an EU fleet continuing to catch British fish.
The fishing industry was sold out at the beginning of this country’s journey into the EU and it looks like it is being betrayed again. Worst of all is the behaviour of our fishing regulators towards their own people. So enslaved have they become to Brussels’ rules that they implement the EU’s desires with a perverse pleasure.
One of the great freedoms that we as an island people have always enjoyed is the ability to catch fish for the table. This was so important it was even written into the Magna Carta. But today, the Brussels bully boys have come after the anglers too.
Consider this. For the year 2018 no angler, from boat or shore, will be allowed to take a single bass home for dinner. Given that hundreds of thousands of people go bass fishing in the UK, you can imagine the knock-on effect for those working in this industry and related sectors.
Amazingly, this diktat is enforced so rigorously in Britain that a friend of mine who runs a charter boat in Sussex has been boarded, questioned and searched 12 times this year. On one occasion his paying customers were made to empty their bags and tackle boxes on the quay side, just in case one of them had a bass. This from a government which is not even prepared to send a protection vessel to assist our commercial scallop fishermen who have been attacked with rocks and flares. (Apparently Michael Gove is going to talk to the French authorities about the recent attacks on U.K. Fishermen. Well, that simply isn’t good enough).
It is clear there is no negotiation with the EU on fisheries that can succeed, no vote that can ever be won. In some ways the recent acts of French violence have been a help to those who want Brexit delivered. They have opened people’s eyes to what being in the EU can really mean.
While our fishermen and anglers may not be a huge part of our economy, in terms of overall symbolism they could not be more important. There must be no more weakness from Theresa May’s government when it comes to fishing. It is time to take back control of our waters.