UK begins to row back from fisheries convention

UK begins to row back from fisheries convention

Agreement gave French, German, Dutch, Irish and Belgian vessels access to UK waters

YESTERDAY

The UK will begin the withdrawal from a convention that allows European vessels to fish in its territorial waters on Monday, a sign of its intention to control access to its fisheries after Brexit.

Withdrawal from the London Fisheries Convention, which was signed in 1964 before the UK joined the EU, will make it easier to manage access to the much larger exclusive economic zone covered by the EU’s common fisheries policy.

The London convention allows vessels from France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of the UK’s coastline, part of the UK’s territorial waters.

Michael Gove, UK environment secretary, said the triggering the two-year withdrawal process for leaving the convention was a “historic first step towards building a new domestic fishing policy as we leave the European Union”.

The UK government has not yet said whether it will actually seek to bar vessels from the five nations from territorial waters, with any access arrangements to be discussed in future fisheries deals.

Fishermen have long complained that their interests were sacrificed when the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973 and some have expressed concern that this could happen in the search for a Brexit deal.

But Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said it was “extremely pleased” with the move to leave the convention. “It’s a signal of intent,” he said.

The SFF was “comfortable” with assurances offered by Mr Gove during a visit in June to the north east Scottish fishing port of Peterhead. Mr Gove said during the trip that the UK would be able to “dramatically increase the amount of fish that we catch”.

"We can do so because once we take back control of our territorial waters, we can decide who comes here, we can decide on what terms,” he said.

However, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, rejected Mr Gove’s assertion that Britain would be able to unilaterally dictate terms of access to its waters.

“UK denunciation of London Convention=no change: EU law/Common Fisheries Policy had superseded it. EU 27 interests=my priority for negs,” Mr Barnier said in a post to his Twitter account.

The EU’s fisheries policy, which imposes quotas based on scientific advise about stocks, has been credited with helping to curb over-fishing in European waters. But Mr Gove said the UK could have a “far more sensible, environmentally wise policy which enables us to conserve and grow the stock” after Brexit.

The environment department said an estimated 10,000 tonnes of fish worth an estimated £17m, was caught by vessels from other countries in 2015 under the London convention.

The overall UK fisheries sector with over 6,000 vessels landed 708,000 tonnes of fish worth £775m in 2015, it said. Concerns in fishing communities at the Scottish National party’s pro-EU policy has been cited as a factor in the SNP’s loss to the Conservatives of a number of seats in north-east Scotland.

All Scottish Conservative candidates signed a pledge organised by the SFF that includes a commitment to avoid any action that could return the industry to the common fisheries policy.

The Irish government said on Sunday that the UK announcement was “unwelcome and unhelpful”.

Access to territorial waters under the London convention was “part of Brexit” and would be considered by EU members and the commission when talks on the UK’s departure began, said Michael Creed, Irish marine minister.

“Brexit poses very serious challenges to the seafood sector,” Mr Creed said.

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