Leaving the EU will provide “a sea of opportunity” for coastal communities, Scottish Fisherman’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong believes, following a “bombshell” landings report from the NAFC Marine Centre.
According to a study by the centre’s senior policy adviser Ian Napier, European Union fishing boats caught more than half of the fish landed from the UK’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in recent years, and seven times more than UK boats caught elsewhere in EU waters.
Dr Napier estimated that from 2012 to 2014 fishing boats from other EU countries caught 58 per cent of the fish and shellfish landed from the UK EEZ on average each year.
According to the findings that is some 650,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth more than £400 million, each year.
Meanwhile UK fishing boats landed 90,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth about £100 million, caught elsewhere in EU waters on average each year.
The UK EEZ is a sea area extending up to 200 nautical miles from the coast, where a country is entitled to control the exploitation of fish and shellfish, as well as other economic resources.
The study used publically available data from the European Commission and the UK’s marine management organisation (MMO).
Among other findings were:
• More than half of the megrim, plaice and saithe, three-quarters of the common (Dover) sole, hake, herring and skates and rays, 83 per cent of the horse mackerel and 94 per cent of the blue whiting landed from the UK EEZ by EU boats were caught by non-UK vessels;
• More than half (51 per cent) of fish and shellfish landed from the Scottish part of the UK EEZ was caught by non-UK boats;
• Almost three-quarters (71 per cent) of fish and shellfish landed from the English, Welsh and Northern Irish part of the UK EEZ was caught by non-UK boats.
The Scottish Fisherman’s Association believes that Brexit will provide “a once-in-a liftetime opportunity to regain control of national waters”.
It argues that exit from the EU will enable the UK to assert control over its 200-mile EEZ, which means that foreign vessels could not then fish in the zone without express consent.
Mr Armstrong said: “This detailed analysis of these landing figures is a bombshell that reveals the truly shocking extent of how our rich fishing grounds have been given away in recent decades.
“Brexit provides a sea of opportunity to breathe new life into our coastal communities by ensuring increased catching opportunities and fit for purpose management within our own EEZ.
“The UK and Scottish governments must take heed of the startling figures contained within this report and work together as a team to ensure that the best possible deal is reached for our hardworking fishermen.
“It would be a monumental betrayal of our coastal communities if this opportunity was traded away in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.
“Brexit has the real potential to turn Scotland into a world leading sustainable seafood harvesting and exporting nation.”
Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins said the report confirmed the view of the entire Scottish fishing industry that Brexit created a sea of opportunity for island and coastal communities throughout the UK.
Mr Collins said: “Once out of Europe, the UK will have the right to manage its own waters as it sees fit and control access to them.
“The report shows just how strong a bargaining position we have. We should deny access to our rich and productive fishing grounds to any country not prepared to offer something in return, and by that I mean fairer shares of scientifically agreed quotas.
“We urge the UK and Scottish governments to use their strength in this area to restore pride and dynamism to an industry so cynically sacrificed upon EU entry all those years ago.”
The full report is available via www.nafc.uhi.ac.uk/media/news