We agree with Polly Toynbee that fishing is “deep-dyed in the national identity” (Opinion, 23 April). The UK is in the middle of some of the best fishing grounds in the world. Where she is wrong is in making two assertions: firstly, that taking back control of our waters “is not going to happen, because it can’t”; and secondly, that the problem is that UK skippers sold their quotas to foreigners.
On the first, actually it can. The United Nations convention on the law of the sea (UNCLOS) awards sovereign rights over and responsibilities for the natural resources to coastal states in their own exclusive economic zones. That will be us on Brexit, and there are a couple of pre-packed examples of the benefits in the EEZs of our near north-east Atlantic neighbours. Iceland catches 90% of the seafood resource in its EEZ and Norway some 85%. For us, under the rules in the common fisheries policy, we catch 40%, which is absurd. It certainly can change, and according to the prime minister and DexEU and Defra, it will change. It will be a negotiation, but if, as Polly says, the referendum was actually won on fishing sentiment, then public support will see the negotiations move in the right direction.
On the second issue, foreign ownership, I am amazed by Tom Appleby’s assertion that “Britain could and should have banned the sale of its quotas”. He’s missed the fact that the UK sought to do just that in the Factortame case 1989-2000, but was prevented from doing so by EU law. As long as we are in the EU, it is illegal to require UK majority ownership of a UK fishing vessel. But that can change should it be decided that the UK wishes to again have unfettered ownership of its natural capital.
Polly is right that 0.5% of GDP is the oft-quoted figure, but that represents about £1bn at landings value. Doubling that, for the direct benefit of our coastal communities is no small thing. Returning to the idea that fishing is deep-dyed in our national identity, it’s simply the right thing to do.
Chief executive, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation
• Polly Toynbee describes the near hopeless position of the small British fishing boats as epitomised in the Hastings fleet. The first and most important stage in this sell-out by the establishment took place in 1973, when Britain joined the EEC. The Tory government did a deal with the existing EEC whereby British farmers (ie, many Tory MPs) would be given large grants, while British well-stocked fishing waters would be opened up to the Euro fishing fleets. No Tory MPs owned a fishing boat. Hastings had a Tory MP in 1973, as it does now (Amber Rudd). All Hastings MPs since 1973 have promised a better deal for the local fishing industry, but the situation has steadily deteriorated, and shows all signs of continuing to do so under Brexit.
Author of Fishermen of Hastings, Hastings, East Sussex
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