Dutch urge Gove to spell out post-Brexit fishing industry plans

UK environment secretary told by Dutch fisheries minister to set out proposals after department missed Christmas white paper deadline

The Dutch government has called on Michael Gove to provide a clear vision for the European fishing industry for when the UK leaves the EU’s common fisheries policy, amid growing insecurity in communities on both sides of the Channel.

Carola Schouten, the Netherlands’ fisheries minister, said her country’s fleet, one of the largest in the EU, needed certainty about the future, but that she had yet to see any template from the British environment secretary for how a new arrangement would work.

“I didn’t see any official proposal yet,” Schouten said. “I think it is important to have a formal proposal from the British … we need something to react to.”

The EU has repeatedly asked the British government to lay out its vision of a future relationship with the bloc outside the single market, customs union and common fisheries policy.

In September, Gove told a House of Commons select committee that a fisheries white paper would be published before Christmas, adding that there was “potential for rapid growth” for the UK fishing industry post-Brexit.

The failure of the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs to meet the deadline has been heavily criticised by the Scottish government, in particular, along with its vocal fishing community.

Under the EU’s common fisheries policy – criticised by Gove as unfair and failing to prioritise the environment – the total allowable catch for each species of fish in each sea is set according to maximum sustainable yield goals, designed on scientific advice to restore the 80% of the European fish stocks affected by overfishing.

The percentage quota of fish allowed by each member state’s fleet was fixed in 1983 on the basis of the recorded catches of the various national fleets between 1973 and 1978.

In her first intervention on Brexit, Schouten said: “I think [the system] works well. We also have debates with our fishermen, ‘we want more quota’. But it is one sea, we have to share it. I think it is proven that the system works.”

The UK’s fisheries minister, George Eustice, a backer of Brexit, has suggested that the current quota system would be ripped up to provide “hundreds of thousands of tonnes more fish” for the British fleet after Brexit. However, Schouten responded: “No, I think in general, we all agreed on the maximum sustainable yield goals we have to meet. They are still there. Nothing has changed on how they will evolve.”

Schouten added that beyond Brexit – which she described as “sad” – the greatest challenge facing all European fleets was making the industry more efficient and sustainable.

This month, the European parliament banned pulse fishing, a method pioneered by the Dutch, in which electrodes are attached to nets to send electrical signals close to the surface of the seabed, driving fish to move into the nets.

Schouten said there was no scientific evidence to back up complaints from the French industry and others that it was cruel and damaged habitats. “It is a great industry, from generation to generation, fathers to sons and daughters even,” she said. “But it is a hard life, and we have to face some challenges.

“One of them is the issue of sustainability. That’s why our fishermen are trying to look at innovative ideas. We are convinced pulse is a very good innovation.

“It takes half the gas you need for the boats. You don’t damage the sea beds. With this way of fishing you [also] have less [unintentional fish caught] … by pulse fishing you can be more selective.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “The environment secretary has already set out a clear direction for the UK’s fishing industry outside the EU: one which will lead to a more profitable and resilient sector, and where we will work with adjacent states to manage fish stocks sustainably and effectively.

“Our upcoming fisheries white paper will provide further clarity on the future of this vital industry.”


Daniel Boffey in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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