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Restoring independent policies: Fisheries

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While there are aspects of the CAP which may be tolerable, at least in the short to medium-term, there are no redeeming features of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Limited reforms have been largely cosmetic and do not address the main flaws in the policy. Root and branch reforms are only possible if we leave the EU.

However, there are many different ways of managing commercial fisheries. No single way is necessarily best. But the UK would be free to look at all possible options, including devolution of fisheries management to local bodies (sometimes called Fisheries Management Authorities, or FMAs).

After the overly centralised CFP, we may prefer this local approach, working within a strategic and legal framework devised by central government. In this scenario, the fisheries ministry would not manage domestic fisheries directly. It would supervise and offer general direction. However, it would handle international relations and manage vessels operating outside the 200-mile limit.

A contentious area within the EU is the choice of scientific advice. Withdrawal permits the UK to choose its own sources, the accuracy, reliability and timeliness of which are crucial to successful fisheries management. The type of data on which management systems are based can also be decided, without having to abide by EU decisions.

Another area that needs addressing is the way policy is implemented by regulations which form part of the criminal code. The effect is to criminalise the industry, creating a situation where even minor technical and administrative infractions are deemed to be criminal offences. It puts fishermen on a par with drug pushers, thugs and thieves. Yet this is an industry where people put their lives at risk in order to provide the nation with a vital food.

An independent UK could use the civil code and contract law. Companies or individuals could contract with the state or the FMAs. We would foresee contracts permitting the exploitation of certain areas of sea, subject to terms and conditions enforceable in the civil courts or specialist fisheries tribunals. This would not exclude the use of the criminal code to deal with fraud and theft.

Rather than relying on the quota system as the primary method of limiting fish catches, the days at sea system could be used. Allocations could be geared to vessel size, target species and style of operation – with incentives for selective fishing capabilities in mixed fisheries.

Combined with the use of mandatory selective fishing techniques and a system of immediate fishery closures based on results from real-time catch monitoring, this removes the need for discarding over-quota fish. Anything which is caught must be landed, and can be sold.

In any system, accurate records must be kept. Something which has eluded the EU, which has been looking for uniform Europe-wide solutions, is the implementation of standardised electronic record-keeping. Freed from EU constraints, the UK could develop its own system.

Physical monitoring is also necessary, through surveillance by fisheries patrol vessels, with random boarding and inspection. This could be augmented by use of on-board scientific observers and compliance officers, plus aerial surveillance with the possible adoption of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellites. These assets can also be used to deal with illegal fishing

An example of the detail into which policymakers must delve, though, comes with the difficult task of enforcing the prohibition of discarding. This includes “high grading” – the practice of dumping fish already caught to make room for catches of higher-graded fish. Use of statistical models of catch composition for different types of vessel and fisheries is needed to detect the practice.

There then remains the issue of sanctions against transgressors. It is self evident that these will need to be fair, and proportionate. But they must bite when the occasion demands. Without being hampered by the CFP, the UK could use civil code penalties, written into standard contracts.

In a “days at sea” system, the most effective sanction is withdrawal of allocations. Authorities can also place official observers aboard vessels, and charge for them. For multiple offenders, licences can be withdrawn for varying periods, up to a life ban.

As to costs, UK annual financial contribution to the CFP was estimated at about £40 million, a sum notionally saved by Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. It is anticipated that administration and enforcement will progressively become self-funding, affording further savings, delivering an annual saving to the Treasury in the order of £130 million a year.

This post was originally published by the author 27 March 2016

About Ben Kelly

Ben Kelly is a Political writer, editor & #Brexit campaigner who resides in Yorkshire, United Kingdom. He is the Web Editor of Conservatives for Liberty and blogs in his personal capacity campaigning for Brexit at The Sceptic Isle.

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