Power grab over fisheries

To catch a mackerel
To catch a mackerel © Jenny Downing

By Russell Bruce

The government of Jersey is up in arms over a proposed UK power grab as it seeks to obtain control over all the waters in these islands with the exception of the those of the Irish Republic.

Jersey as a Crown Dependency has control over everything except defence and international relations but has been striking out in recent years to establish direct international links, including an office in Brussels. Ian Gorst is a former Chief Minister of Jersey and currently the Minister for External Relations.

Senator Gorst does not pull any punches in his short video clip and presents a cogent argument against interference in Jersey fisheries management and their established relationship with others over access to Jersey waters.

Jersey was originally part of France under the Duchy of Normandy. In 1204 the English crown lost Normandy but the Channel Islands remained under the English crown. Only 14 miles from the French coast Jersey is much closer to France than to the South of England and is neither part of the UK or in the EU. Jersey has long standing fishery agreements with both England and France.

Under Jersey law the government of Jersey would need to agree to hand over their fisheries. Gorst clearly is not of that mind. Jersey fishermen on the other hand are keen to reduce the historic rights of French boats to fish in Jersey waters. Seems a familiar pattern. Just how much leverage the Johnson government has is an open question as Westminster is determined to take away powers from Scotland and the other devolved nations and may not stop at overruling the government of Jersey.

Despite the importance of fishing to coastal communities the total impact on the UK economy is small. Scotland has the largest fishing fleet of all the nations landing more fish and proving the bulk of employment.

Because of favourable tax laws Jersey is a popular destination for the City of London to establish investment trusts and other financial products. When it comes to white sharks and sprats Jersey mirrors the relative economic importance of finance (white shark) to fishing (sprat) in London

We illustrated this in our major report on fishing in 2018

It remains to be seen whether the financial connections between the City of London and Jersey will be employed to pressurise the Government of Jersey to hand over their fish to Westminster.

Fishermen bought into Brexit big time. They thought they would get more fish, forgetting that the UK only consumes 20% of their catch with 80% going mainly to the EU. Small inshore fishermen do not have quotas anyway and they account for the majority of boats. It is not an easy living and the economic returns are not huge as we detailed in our 2018 report for a larger boat with a skipper and four crew.

Fishing remains a distraction in Westminster’s calculations when no industry exporting to Europe has any idea of the customs regime they will face along with mountains of red tape and paperwork not required when we were in the EU. Then there is the real possibility of tariffs on any UK fish making to an EU destination.

Get prepared, Johnson urges as head of a government that is doing very little in preparation apart from building giant lorry parks. If the Westminster government had a realistic end game for January 1st 2021 fishermen and other exporting industries would be able to put strategies in place.

January 1st is not looking good for fishermen, farmers and food processors. Compared to the value of fish and shellfish, the latter being the most valuable by weight, it is Scotland’s salmon industry worth £1 billion a year to the Scottish economy that is also set for difficult times.

Scotland is the big fishery player although worth less that Salmon and food processing and our important quality branded beef and lamb. Nobody can plan for the uncertainty of a UK government who have wasted over 4 years getting nowhere. It is a bit like turning up at the casino and expecting to be a player at the table with a Johnson pile of tiddlywinks discs.

After 1st January the UK will still need to abide by international law on fishing quotas but then we know what Johnson and his ministers think about international law. Never mind fishermen and others there is employment in building lorry parks courtesy of a government not quite grasping that the value of infrastructure investment is to improve the flow of goods, not park it.