Flemish fishing boats to be barred from UK waters

Summary

In a shocking move, the UK has pulled itself out of the London Fisheries Convention, shutting its waters off from fishing boats from other countries, including Belgium

Blow to local fishermen

The British government has announced that it is abandoning a convention dating from 1964 that allows Belgian fishing boats access to some British territorial waters. “This is an area in which we are very active,” a representative of the local fishing industry said.

The announcement was made by the UK’s new environment minister and Brexit hard-liner Michael Gove. “This is a first historic step towards a new national fisheries policy, now that we are leaving the European Union.”

Gove said that the move would allow the British government to pursue a more successful campaign in favour of sustainable fishing than the “environmental disaster” of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

The London Fisheries Convention dates from 1964, a decade before the UK joined the then-EEC. It allowed fishing boats from Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands to fish in an area six to 12 miles from the British coast.

The Belgian industry, based entirely in Flanders, takes about 10% of its total catch in the zone, according to Emiel Brouckaert, director-general of industry federation Rederscentrale. “If part of the North Sea is closed off to us, we will never be able to replace it,” he said. “But that does not mean the Belgian catch will be down by 10%. We will find alternatives.”

Gove made it clear that he intends to reclaim the waters up to 200 miles (322 kilometres) from the British coastline, or the central line between the UK and Ireland and between the UK and France.

According to environmental organisation WWF, sustainable fishing means more than who fishes where. “It is about ensuring that fishermen use the right gear, that sustainable stocks are maintained and that we pioneer ways to monitor what is happening at sea,” a WWF spokesperson told The Guardian. “Leaving the EU means we could get these things right, but we will still need to co-operate with our neighbours, as fish do not recognise lines on a map.”

Photo courtesy Rederscentrale