I was at sea on trawlers in 1958 when the Icelandic Cod Wars first got under way. At this time there were many hundreds of British deep sea trawlers fishing around Iceland and the cod catches were prolific. Iceland sported two small warships called Odin and Thor and with these two ships they tried unsuccessfully to manipulate the trawlers to stay outside a four mile restriction zone. Then along came Edward Heath and the entry of the United Kingdom into the European Union.
The restriction zone around Iceland then moved by stages to twelve miles, then fifty miles and settled eventually at two hundred miles thereby completing the extinction of the English deep sea fishing fleet. I remember the time when you could walk across St Andrews dock in Hull from side to side just on the fishing boats. This dock has long since been filled with concrete and Hull no longer has a fishing fleet as is the case with most of the other fishing ports from that era.
The people employed in the industry were working at the sharp end of the business either fishing or converting and distributing the product. Political interference and administration was minimal and certainly not obstructive. How times have change. Recently I was down in Poole and had an opportunity to observe the procedure as it is now.
A fishing skipper now has to fill forms out in quadruplicate every time he goes out. This form requires him to record the type and weight of each type of fish he catches. Which area of the coast he caught them. What time he left port and what time he returned accurate to ten minutes. Obviously which boat and who were the crew members. Plus a lot more minor detail that I cannot now recall. All of this is supposed to be recorded at the time it occurs whilst at sea. This is of course dangerous as the concentration of the crew should be on safety and the actual fishing. So in fact it will be filled in when they have returned to port and the accuracy of the rei did thankport suffers accordingly.
Never fear, this is the time for the jobsworths of the Fishing Protection and Environment to step in and assist. There are six of these people in the Poole office and there are fifteen such offices around the coast of England. These people observe the comings and goings of the tiny number of boats that still fish in these waters and they will go through the quadruplicated reports and demand corrections. These reports are then sent on to the office in Hastings which collates the South coast reports before sending them onto the head office in Newcastle for recording. There resides a team of fourteen well paid Board members at this head office. All of this is to comply with European Union rules and it is being done at a time when the English fishing fleet is now virtually non-existent. The French and Spanish fleets operate under these same rules but when asked to comply with the filling out of these forms their answer is to block the ports until the officials and the problem goes away.
Now to the really farcical point of the situation; the number of boats going out fishing is falling year on year as the remaining fishing men retire. They are not being replaced by younger skippers because these men cannot find commercial banks to fund new start- up businesses. There are more fish and crustaceans in our seas than there have ever been and the remaining few older skippers are very happy individuals, but they want to, and will retire. Is this final retraction of our fishing fleet going to lead to a reduction of the staff in our Fishery Protection offices? I cannot imagine this happening, can you?
The real frightening thought is that this situation must be multiplied up into every area where the European Union`s sticky fingers are involved. Perhaps George Osborne’s demand for a 40% reduction in budgets might not be so far out of court!