REFERENDUM: Fishermen claim EU has ‘sold them down the river’

Longtime shrimp fisherman Ray Edmondson with TV celebrity Ade Edmondson.
Longtime shrimp fisherman Ray Edmondson with TV celebrity Ade Edmondson.

In a series on the EU referendum, we are exploring some of the issues behind ‘leave’ and ‘remain’. This week, we talk to two of the district’s longest-serving fishermen about why much of the industry is united behind the ‘Brexit’ vote

Ron Shaw has worked in the fishing industry for 50 years.

Shoreway Fisheries in Marketgate.

Shoreway Fisheries in Marketgate.

And like many of his fellow UK fishermen, he believes we would be better off outside the European Union.

Ron, who helps run his family business Shoreway Fisheries in the Marketgate Shopping Centre in Lancaster, says the British fishing industry has been “sold down the river” and hopes that coming out of the EU will help improve the situation.

He blames the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) for taking fishing rights away.

“As a result, around 75 per cent of UK fishing boats have been decommissioned,” he said.

“There are no longer the people there with the right skills because they’ve all moved on and re-trained.”

Fishermen feel strongly about this issue. In the north east of Scotland, they have even set up their own anti-EU campaigning group called ‘Fishing For Leave’.

The CFP, introduced in 1970, sets rules for the amount of fish an EU country’s boat can catch. Under the CFP, European fishing fleets are given equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds up to 12 nautical miles from the coasts of EU member states.

But Ron said: “How is it fair that Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets can fish within 100m of our shores?”

Other arguments against the CFP include that it is over-centralised, it has killed fishing communities without saving stocks and there is a huge amount of waste – if fish are the wrong species or too small they are thrown back, and it is detrimental to developing countries.

Arguments for are that it protects stock and prevents damaging competition between fishing fleets, it supports sustainability, it provides long-term support for fishing communities with a fair pricing system, and it is beneficial for negotations with other countries.

But Ron also said: “You’ve only got to look at Norway to know that there’s definitely a benefit to leaving.”

The fishing issue was indeed a factor in Norway’s 1972 referendum that rejected EU membership.

Many Norwegian fishermen today argue being outside Europe has left them better off, but others say being outside the single market means they have to pay higher tariffs on certain fish when exporting them to EU nations.

Ron said: “If we come out of Europe I think the fishing industry here will have a voice again.

“The industry is not dying, but the way people are buying stuff now, it’s the supermarkets they go to rather than the little wet fish shops.

“We can get back to our rules, get a proper fishing zone in place.

“If we left Europe we could get the UK Common Fisheries Policy back.”

Ray Edmondson, a fisherman for more than 50 years in Morecambe, will also be voting ‘out’.

“The EU is a waste of money,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s done us any good. They don’t listen to what the fishermen tell them. And there are so many rules and regulations.

“There are wagonloads of fish that go from this country from the top of Scotland to the south coast to France and Spain and other places, and I don’t think they are going to stop buying that fish if we are out of Europe.”

A 2016 House of Commons Library paper suggests that restoring our fishing waters to pre-EU status would depend on whether the UK would allow access by foreign vessels to its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Outside the EU, an EEZ extends 200 nautical miles (370km) off a country’s coastline, giving the state the authority to exploit and control the fish within this zone.

But if the UK allowed access to foreign vessels as part of any exit talks, the Commons Library note states it would have to “maintain a very close working relationship with the EU to enable the monitoring of landings and to co-ordinate on wider regulation in the sector”.