Theresa May could waive rights to 95 per cent of British waters after Brexit, fishermen fear

Christopher Hope
A trawler off the coast of Scotland -  David Cheskin/ David Cheskin

 

Fishermen fear Theresa May could waive the rights to almost 95 per cent of British waters after failing to make any solid promises over sovereignty of the seas in the Tory manifesto.

A desire to take back control of Britain’s waters was a constant theme for Leave campaigners ahead of last year's EU referendum.

They believe Britain has legal rights to all fish within 200 miles of the coast, but the manifesto leaves open the possibility that only 12 miles of water will be protected after Brexit.

A report published last October found that more than half the fish caught in British waters are currently landed by trawlers from the rest of the EU.

The Conservative party’s manifesto states the UK “will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control”.
 

 

A campaigner on the flotilla protesting against the EU on the Thames before the referendum Credit: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Trawlermen believe that might refer only to the 12-mile zone guaranteed under the 1964 London Fisheries Convention, as the 200-mile zone, agreed under a United Nations convention in 1982, was never implemented because of Britain’s EU membership.

The Conservatives declined to say yesterday how much water would be protected, saying the details would form part of the Brexit negotiations.

The 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was set up by the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, but Britain had already given control of its waters to Brussels by then.

One Tory source admitted the language of the manifesto did “leave open” the possibility that Britain might agree that other EU nations can access these waters after Brexit.

Alan Hastings, a spokesman for the Fishing for Leave campaign, said: “After their dubious manifesto wording, the only way the Conservatives can redeem their position publicly to avoid accusations of a sell-out is to affirm categorically that the UK will take back control of our entire UK EEZ and to exercise sovereign control over all the waters and resources within for the benefit of UK fishermen.” 

French trawlers Credit:  SYLVAIN LEFEVRE/ SYLVAIN LEFEVRE

Mike Hookem, the UK Independence Party spokesman, said: “Rather than reclaiming what is rightfully ours under international law, Theresa May's manifesto has signalled her intention to only reclaim waters up to 12 miles, which was the limit before our entering the Common Fisheries Policy in the 1970s.

"The EU realise how important fisheries are to their economies, that is why they are fighting for them."

But Owen Paterson, the former Conservative Environment secretary, said he interpreted the manifesto as committing the UK to taking control of waters up to 200 miles from the coast.

He told The Daily Telegraph: “I am delighted to see it confirmed that we will have a modern fishing policy that will have an EEZ 200 miles off the coastline.”

A Tory party spokesman admitted that "reciprocal arrangements will be a matter for negotiation with other coastal states" after Brexit.

He said: “The Conservatives believe that leaving the EU presents a major opportunity for the UK fishing industry and we are committed to withdrawing from the Common Fisheries Policy - as well as the London Fisheries Convention - and putting in place a new fisheries regime.

"Following our departure from the EU, the UK will be an independent coastal state and subject to international law on fisheries management.

“This includes the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which will see us gain control of British waters within the UK Exclusive Economic Zone.

"Under international law, access to our waters, and any reciprocal arrangements, will be a matter for negotiation with other coastal states."

The EU’s quota system dictates precisely which species of fish, and how many, fishermen are allowed to catch. This means that healthy fish are thrown back.

Campaigners want to replace quotas with a “days at sea” system, which would allow fishermen to fish freely for a set number of days, but which is constantly monitored to prevent over-fishing.

Nigel Farage, the-then Ukip leader, and the-then Labour MP Kate Hoey led a small flotilla of fishing boats up the Thames days before the EU referendum vote last June, where they clashed with rival boats led by the singer and political activist Bob Geldof.

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