CONSERVATIVE MEP FOR SCOTLAND

Halt the North Sea Annual Plan

Last week the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee discussed The Multi-annual Plan for Demersal Stocks in the North Sea. Each of the interventions in the debate (and sadly I was the only Scot who spoke) was ‘worthy’. Chief negotiator, Ulrike Rodust, a Socialist from Germany, is no friend of the fishermen’s having previously called for new red tape into the fishing industry, in the form of extra technical measures for the Common Fisheries Policy.

09.02.2017.

Last week the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee discussed The Multi-annual Plan for Demersal Stocks in the North Sea. Each of the interventions in the debate (and sadly I was the only Scot who spoke) was ‘worthy’. Chief negotiator, Ulrike Rodust, a Socialist from Germany, is no friend of the fishermen’s having previously called for new red tape into the fishing industry, in the form of extra technical measures for the Common Fisheries Policy.

Some MEPs spoke of the importance of the maximum sustainable yield and the precautionary approach, a few spoke of the need to enforce the discard ban to the max, others the need to give certainty to fishermen. A lone voice asked the pertinent question, ‘What about the Norwegians?’ And finally someone noticed the blue whale in the room, ‘We need to recognise that Brexit will happen…’

It teed up my intervention nicely: ‘Stop!’ Followed by the observation that legislating for a sea basin over which you will shortly be responsible for only 30% of the waters was ‘nonsense on stilts.’ I think it would be fair to say that my comments were not warmly welcomed by the MEPs assembled.

For some time I have been pointing out the problems in implementing a North Sea Management Plan. However, let me rehearse them once again.

When the UK leaves the EU, the Common Fisheries Policy will no longer apply to British waters. That in itself would seem to be reason enough not to go through the palaver of legislating for 70% of the North Sea that will not be under the EU’s control.  However, some have said, ‘Hold on now. The Great Reform Act proposed by Theresa May simply repatriates EU laws, and so the CFP rules will apply until the UK Government gets round to revising or rescinding them. That could take years.’ The problem with that analysis is that the North Sea Plan contains a number of what are known as ‘delegated acts.’ These acts empower the European Commission to revise and update the directive without a need to create new legislation. Does anyone reading this seriously believe that after Brexit, we will delegate any powers to the European Commission? Didn’t think so. In short order the North Sea Plan will be revised.

So, sometime in 2019 the hard labour of the European Fisheries Committee will be revisited by Westminster and Holyrood. If it is good for Scottish and English fishermen, then elements may survive. If it isn’t, it’s done for. How much would you bet on a piece of EU fisheries legislation being good for UK fishermen?

To those who tell me that reforming the management of the North Sea is ‘urgent’ I have only one question: more urgent than reforming the management of the Mediterranean? Where vessels tow nets that resemble a grand pair of tights, from which even minnows struggle to escape? Or the Adriatic, or the waters of the Iberian Peninsula? All of which remain untouched by the dead hand of EU legislators. Why prioritise the North Sea now?

So, for the time being, the merry legislative sausage-makers of the EU will continue to legislate for British waters. But the clock is ticking. And high noon is fast approaching.

This article orginally appeared in the Fishing News on 09/02/2017.

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