Some facts about fishing

Fishing boats (picture

Apparently, there was a campaign launch today by the Taxpayers Alliance, protesting against the EU’s common fishing policy. There are a lot of things wrong with that policy, to be sure, but in the absence of the TPA’s campaign document I can’t comment on the specifics.

What I can do is to set down a few facts about fishing.

Improved productivity costs jobs

The number of people employed in the UK fishing industry has halved since the UK joined the EEC. Sounds bad. However, it halved in the same period of time before Britain joined the EEC. The decline in employment is nothing to do with the EU or the common fishing policy. The reason is technology – satellite navigation, satellite detection of the location of fish stocks, better boats, better nets – a reason which has reduced the level of employment in lots of areas of the economy.

You can’t have everything

Fishing policy anywhere is driven by three factors:

– The desire to reduce costs by improved technology and productivity
– The aim of keeping a high level of employment in the sector
– The need to conserve fish stocks

And the problem is that these three are mutually incompatible: one of them has to give. The same number of people, working more efficiently, will do more work.

Recently, in the EU, it has been the third factor, fish stocks, that has been given the lowest priority. In my view, that’s not the right choice, but critics of the CFP cannot have the perfect policy. They need to tell us whether they think that costs should be inflated, or jobs should be lost, or fish stocks should be imperilled. Which is it?

A national solution won’t work

Fish swim across national borders. They don’t carry passports. Any attempt to conserve fish in British waters alone is going to fail: it has to be a shared European effort.

Furthermore, imagine a British government that did withdraw from the European fishing policy in order to try and protect jobs. Is it going to be tough on allowable quotas? More likely, it will be even looser, allowing bigger quotas, if employment is its primary objective. Leaving the CFP will endanger Britain’s fish stocks, not preserve them.

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