EUFA leader warns against sudden changes.

An EU fishermen’s leader says he does not want to see EU fishermen breaking the rules of any new Brexit agreement that bans them from their former grounds in UK waters, reports Tim Oliver.

But he says that, realistically, there will be some fishermen who will ignore any ban if there is a sudden change overnight.

Gerard van Balsfoort, chairman of the EU Fisheries Alliance (EUFA) of nine EU countries with fishing interests, said he did not intend comments he made on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to imply that he would encourage or condone illegal fishing by fishermen who lost their traditional grounds after Brexit.

He said he also regretted suggesting that the Royal Navy would not be able to police the UK’s new EEZ effectively.

In a discussion on fisheries and Brexit, he was asked what would happen if UK waters were closed to EU fishermen after Brexit. He told Radio 4: “If our boats were suddenly barred from UK waters, we would just carry on fishing there regardless.

“We know that the Royal Navy is not able to patrol or control all your waters.”

But he told Fishing News that this was not what he had intended to say and that it had come out ‘a bit wrong’.

He said he had received a lot of ‘hate’ emails and phone calls over the weekend from the UK, which had been disturbing, although he knew there were people in the UK who constantly take ‘very strong views’ against other EU fishermen and accuse them of ‘pillaging’ UK waters.

“I haven’t heard the interview, but what I wanted to say was that it is difficult to see that if waters are closed two years from now with no agreement, then vessels that habitually fished there would just not go there any more,” he said.

“You can’t just alter people’s behaviour overnight, but that came out a bit wrong. I don’t want to encourage conflict; I have no hate or antagonism towards UK colleagues – I don’t want this kind of discussion.

“My personal opinion is that we have to comply with the rules, whatever they are. I am president of the Pelagic Freezer Trawlers Association (PFTA) and a director of the PO, and personally, and as chairman of EUFA, I always want to calm things down because that’s the only way to get out of this situation.
“But if you make a 180-degree change in policy – and that is the aim of a lot of people in the UK; that they want to kick us out as soon as possible after two years – it’s difficult to accept that the other EU states will accept this as a new situation.”

Gerard van Balsfoort said everyone had to work together because there were so many shared stocks that had to be managed properly to secure everyone’s future.

He said there was a lot of ‘extremist talk’ from the UK fishing industry. “This would be OK if it was just a few people, but there are a lot of people in the industry who use this language, which is strange because you are considered a moderate country.

“I will observe the rules and will tell the members of the PO to observe the rules. But there are thousands of fishermen who fish in UK waters, and it will be a huge change of policy that will stop them from using their normal fishing grounds overnight. You don’t have to be clairvoyant to see that perhaps not everybody will accept that they have to suddenly make that change, that’s what I said. That’s not the same as telling people not to comply with the rules. That’s just being realistic, but maybe that’s been interpreted as a call to misbehave.

“It is not my intention to tell fishermen to ignore the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, whatever they are.”

The EUFA chairman said it was well known that for fisheries regulations to work, they had to have the broad support of fishermen.

He said there was a parallel with the landing obligation, which many EU fishermen rejected, and to throw out all EU fishermen from UK waters in March 2019 would be ‘a huge, drastic change – more drastic than the landing obligation’. “The more you change policy, if fishermen don’t support the policy the more non-compliance you will have,” he said.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have said it will be difficult for the Navy to enforce all these changes; it will have hurt the pride of certain elements in the UK, because I questioned the ability of the Navy. That’s not the way I meant it – my message was we have to be sensible, and we have to find a way to manage Brexit. Nobody knows what is going to happen – there is a lot of decision-making to be done on both sides.”

A DEFRA spokesperson commented: “We will decide who has access and management of UK waters when we leave the EU. The Fisheries Bill will re-set the baseline for negotiations with the EU and other coastal states.”

‘Problems can be overcome’

NFFO chief executive Barrie Deas said there were bound to be ‘teething problems’ after Brexit, but he believed things would settle down quite quickly when the resources were in place to police the EEZ.
He said effective policing did not necessarily mean that vessels would have to be physically seen, in the fast-moving, modern world of electronic surveillance.

The UK could also consider adopting the Norwegian ‘gateway’ system where vessels entering and leaving Norwegian waters have to call in to the coastguard, and can be ordered to specified positions where the coastguard can inspect them.

“We don’t have to slavishly follow Norway, but they are the closest example of a neighbouring country operating as an independent coastal state, so it’s perhaps a good idea to look at how they do things.

“The technology and example of Norway suggest that it won’t be an insuperable problem with decades of anarchy ahead.”

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