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In recent weeks we have seen the Conservative Party blubber about the fishing industry and how it is seeking to protect them. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

They often brandish the EU’s common fisheries policy as the main reason for fisherman hating the EU but the reality is somewhat different than you may think. We heard Ruth at the Conservative Conference saying she had been “talking to fisherman” but the reality is that at £500 a ticket to go to the Tory conference, it was more likely to be the richer fleet owners, not the guys on the ground.

Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and others like to say that the CFP has “destroyed” the British fishing industry or “halved” the number of British fishermen. In fact, in terms of profits of the big fishing companies, the British industry is one of the most successful in the EU. To understand, we must travel back to before 1983. In those days Scottish Fishing Vessels actually didn’t really fish within Scottish Waters. Instead, they used to fish in the white fish grounds around Iceland. However, they lost the right to those waters as a result of the three cod wars during the 60’s and 70’s when Reykjavik exercised its rights under the UN Constitution on Law of the sea and extended its fishing boundaries to 200 miles from their shores.

It wasn’t, in fact, the EU Fishing Policies but in fact the loss of the grounds around Iceland, indeed when the common fisheries policy was first signed, most fishermen deemed it to be relatively fair.

But the betrayal of Scottish Fishing by the tories pre-dates Margaret Thatcher.
Secret papers, released in 2003, revealed how the Scottish fishing fleet was betrayed by the government in the 70’s under Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath to enable Britain to sign up to the Common Fisheries Policy. So the damage was done before entering the CFP and during the negotiations for it.
Prime Minister Edward Heath’s officials estimated that up to half the fishermen in Scottish waters – then 4,000 men – could lose their jobs, but the decision was taken to go ahead with plans to sign up because it was believed that the benefits to English and Welsh fishermen would outweigh the disadvantages in Scotland.
In a memo dated 11 December 1970, on the negotiations to sign up to the CFP, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland conceded that the policy would lead to a “weaker and less efficient national fleet”.
A DAFS briefing note warned: “In short, at present it is much easier to see the drawbacks for our fishermen likely to be involved in the Common Fisheries Policy than to be at all positive that there will be benefits to offset, let alone outweigh them.”
Another DAFS paper in July 1970 warned that the small boat section of the Scottish industry would be damaged and the benefits might not outweigh the disadvantages. It said the small boats were more likely to be affected because they were “less enterprising and less mobile”.
Alex Smith, the president of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said that the release of the secret papers had only served to confirm what Scottish fishermen had always suspected – the Scottish fleet was expendable.
 He said: “I have never doubted that that was what happened. No-one seemed to care about the Scottish fishing industry and at one time there wasn’t even going to be even a three-mile limit for Scottish boats.
“I was a skipper in Arbroath at the time we joined the Common Market. There was no such thing as a fishermen’s federation in those days and it was fishermen in Arbroath who began opposing the plan.
“I was on our committee and we organised a big meeting, attended by 200 fishermen from the north and west and all over. And it was out of that we managed to negotiate the ten-year 12-mile limit.” But he added: “The reality is that it is done and dusted and although it won’t look good for the politicians and civil servants who were involved at the time, the question is what we can do about it now.
“If it jolts our present day politicians into giving some sympathy and support to the industry because they have a conscience about what happened in the past then that might be helpful. “
But of course, we now know that this assistance was never forthcoming, Westminster has always considered the Scottish Fishing Fleet expendable, indeed the First Tory Brexit white paper specifically mentions putting the Scottish Fishing Fleet on the table for EU negotiations. It is a case of them betraying the Fisherman on the way in and now they are doing it on the way out.
The only people who are actually fussed about the CFP are the rich fleet owners and senior directors in the industry, it being that suspension of the CFP means that they will be able to pull what they want out of the water. The problem lies in that the CFP was specifically designed to make fishing sustainable without completely wiping out the stocks. A return to the days of being able to pull what they want out of the water will no doubt make vast sums of money for the wealth but it will destroy the fish stocks in the protest, meaning that smaller fishing boats will be out of business before long. Of course this will be no concern to someone who has made millions from pillaging the seas. It really is a Tory policy, make vast sums of money and spend now, then leave the mess for other generations to clean up.
The problem is that once the stocks are gone, they are gone. They require quotas to ensure that there is always going to be fish stores for future generations, something which the CFP in consort with certain environmental policies has seen an increase and recovery in the current stock.
So far from standing up for Fishermen, the Tories are responsible for their current situation.
About author
Martin Keatings

Martin Keatings

Pro-Independence Activist