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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Have you ever encountered a political haddock?


We have all seen the headlines about The Government's intention of deploying The Royal Navy to turn back EU fishing boats from Britain's EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone as defined by UN in 1985 - 200 nautical miles from shore a zone of fishing and other rights), should there be no deal struck with The EU before 1st January.

Tobias Ellwood, Conservative Chair of The Commons Defence Committee is clearly not impressed, 'We're facing the undignified prospect right now of our overstretched Royal Navy squaring up to a close NATO ally over fishing vessel rights when we are witnessing an increasing presence of Russian drone activity and subsurface activity - our adversaries must really be enjoying this blue on blue'.

'Undignified' is a rather polite way of putting it. Lord Patten, former Conservative Party Chairman and an EU Commissioner takes a wider and more forthright view, ' What we are seeing is Boris Johnson on this runaway train of English exceptionalism and heaven knows where it is going to take us in the end.......I hope I'm wrong to feel so depressed about the outlook but I don't think that Mr Johnson is a Conservative, I think he is an English nationalist.'

Fish and China

Well, you will all have your own views on Brexit, on Deal/No Deal, and on Johnson and his Government, but these issues help to obscure the wider global issue caused by overfishing.

In an earlier blog, I highlighted China's aggressive fishing activities around the globe. This is particularly noticeable right across the Southern Hemisphere from Brazil to Antarctica, from Antarctica to The South China Sea.

A year ago this month China deployed 63 fishing boats, accompanied by 4 coastguard vessels, into Indonesian waters. Indonesia responded by sending its own coastguard vessels to the area, supported by jet fighters.

China with its massive, and expanding, population needs food and fish is widely eaten. But its aggressive actions against other nation's fishing waters with the use of superfishing vessels poses a threat which is global. Fish stocks are not infinite and are now declining at an alarming rate. This decline is not solely caused by overfishing but also, of course, by climate change.

China isn't the only culprit. Spain has the largest fishing fleet off the West coast of Africa, even dwarfing China's in the area. Only this last week a number of superfishing vessels from various EU countries have been harvesting from the seabed off Sussex. I see evidence of this daily with dead fish and seaweed from the seabed being washed ashore on the beach, in front of my flat here in Worthing.

Are there any answers? Yes there are in fact two. The first being international agreement on how to manage the world's remaining stock of fish, and the second being the global expansion of aquaculture (fish faming).

The problem is most acute (at least prior to 1st January) in The South China Sea where individual nations' EEZs overlap with other nations' EEZs. Exactly the situation between Britain and France in The Channel. The problem, however, doesn't end there because overfishing is happening in international waters too.

Fish and Wider Politics

In an article in The Sydney Morning Herald, James Massola raises the point that fishing disputes aren't just about fish but about wider political issues (as with our own potential clash with France).

Massola cites Evan Laksmana of The Indonesian Centre for Strategic and International Studies, 'From Jakarta and Beijing's point of view, the fisheries fight ....isn't about fisheries, it's about broader issues. The fish follow the politics. For Beijing, it's about making a statement. It's a way of signalling to Indonesia and other countries that their rights are there, you can't rely on international law. [or you choose to ignore it]. For Indonesia, the recent showdown ... was shaped by domestic politics, which demands that Indonesia stands up to China [much is the same issue for Macron] ..........What needs to happen is the development of a co-operative mechanism. All the key states have to engage in the process...'

Diplomacy is always the best option

The use of force in support of fishing fleets is nothing new. I have mentioned in an earlier blog that Britain fought three Cod Wars with Iceland in the last century. All three wars, incidentally, which Britain lost.

In 2012 there was the so-called 'Scallop War;' between Britain and France, solely caused by the fact that under British law scallop fishing was allowable for 12 months of the year, whereas under French law there was a strict fishing season. Today there is still an ongoing 'crab war'. British fishermen alleging that their French opposite numbers are deliberately damaging crab pots.

Spain even sent warships in 1995 off the Canadian coast in the so-called 'Turbot War'. The Canadians had earlier seized a Spanish fishing boat, claiming it was fishing in Canadian national waters. It ended amicably enough, but not before British and Irish fishermen showed their support for the Canadians by flying the maple leaf from their ships' masts. When the French saw the British vessel, 'Newlyn', flying these Canadian colours they arrested her, believing her to be Canadian!

This all sounds so childish, but don't forget that Britain and Spain in the eighteenth century fought a war over a severed ear - The War of Jenkins Ear.

Quotations from three wise men to ponder over

In these last heightened days of diplomacy between Britain and The EU it might be worth contemplating the following:-

  1. John Dingell, late US politician, 'War is a failure of diplomacy'

  2. Albert Einstein, 'Nationalism is an infantile thing. It is the measles of mankind.'

  3. HG Wells, 'Our true nationality is mankind'.

PS Now if all the above doesn't either make you want to hurl something at me, or, conversely, silently agree with me - then I am indeed losing the plot!

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