Richard North, 02/05/2004  

The Sunday Telegraph

The Faroese show Europe how to fish

Two hundred miles from Britain is a tiny group of islands whose fishermen, free of the shackles of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, may soon be making greater hauls than the entire UK fishing fleet.

Each year the fishermen of the Faroe Islands catch greater quantities of fish - earning more than three times as much as their British counterparts - yet their fish stocks are soaring. The Faroes are now recognised as having created the most profitable and sustainable fishery in the North Atlantic – precisely because they have defied every principle on which the CFP is based.

This is the extraordinary success story which Michael Howard will use in evidence when he flies to Plymouth tomorrow to reaffirm his party's pledge that it will take back control of UK fishing waters, containing four fifths of Europe's fish.

With him will be his front-bench fisheries spokesman, Owen Paterson MP, who has just returned from a visit to the Faroes, to inspect at first hand the workings of a management policy which could herald the renaissance of Britain's fishing industry and the saving of Europe's fish stocks.

Ten years ago the Faroese fishing industry was in crisis. Despite having refused to join the European Community for fear of losing their fish, their fish stocks were collapsing. They sought the scientific advice of ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, on which Brussels bases its CFP. The result was an even worse disaster. The industry on which the 50,000 islanders rely for 99 per cent of their exports faced bankruptcy.

In 1996 their government launched a revolutionary new management regime. From now on they would ignore the ICES and rely solely on the advice of their own scientists and fishermen. It was made illegal for fishermen to dump huge quantities of dead fish back into the sea - the "discarding" which the CFP's rigid quota rules make inevitable in EU waters. The key to healthy fish stocks, the local experts advised, was to "work with nature", by ensuring that fishing was kept in strict balance with food supply.

The results were astonishing. No longer were the fishermen forced to wrestle with labyrinthine bureaucratic rules, permanently at odds with heavy-handed officials. As they learned happily to co-operate with the new policy, they saw their catches and incomes soar, along with the fish stocks, to the point where by 2001 Faroese fishermen were catching 525,000 tonnes a year, or 71 per cent of the total landings by UK boats (738,000 tonnes). Their average earnings of £106,000 compare with the British equivalent of £30,000.

Since then Faroese catches have risen further. Meanwhile those of the fast-shrinking UK fleet have continued a decline made inevitable by the ever more ruthless rules imposed by the EU, in its bid to make room in UK waters for vessels from Spain and new entrants such as Poland and Latvia. The new Brussels fisheries commissioner, it was recently announced, will be Sandra Kalniete, a Latvian artist-turned-politician, with more power over what happens in UK fishing waters than any UK fisheries minister.

In the past four years alone, the Scottish whitefish fleet has shrunk from 351 boats to 100. Of seven large boats which recently landed their catches at Lochinver in north-west Scotland, only one was British, because Brussels has effectively banned Scottish boats from the area round the Hebrides.

This disaster has been decades in the making, and now MPs of every party, led by the Tories, support taking back national control. Talking with Faroese politicians and fishermen last week, Mr Paterson found warm support for the idea of a new North Atlantic fisheries alliance between Norway, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroes and Britain, to co-operate in running an effective, locally-based management policy.

In the words of Arni Joensen, the head of one of the Faroes' leading fisheries bodies: "We would strongly welcome the UK, once it had taken back national control. It would benefit all of us to ensure that we keep the balance of nature." Mr Howard may be on to something.

A shock for the Czech cheesemakers

Listeners to an item on the Today programme about the 10 new members of the EU might have pricked up their ears to hear a Czech cheesemaker explaining that, as one of the benefits of joining the EU, he must now have nine inspectors to watch the six employees working in his cheese-dairy.

Behind all the official celebrations - which at least brought an influx of business, sewing blue-and-gold EU flags to Warsaw's "Propaganda Materials Store", a leftover from Communist days - there has been plenty of evidence that the EU's new citizens are waking up with a shock to the realities of what joining this "country called Europe" entails. In the Czech Republic 586 food
businesses have been forced to close, including scores of abattoirs, because they cannot afford to comply with a deluge of EU hygiene rules.

In Cyprus, farmers and fishermen are horrified to learn that they are now to be monitored by satellites, to ensure that they are not cheating on their olive subsidies or the places where they fish. In Malta headlines announce that the economy has shrunk two years running, because of restrictions entailed by those rules of the growth and stability pact which France, Germany and Italy so blithely ignore.

The BBC has not been keen to advertise just how far the new entrants are being admitted as "second-class citizens". They must comply with 97,000 pages of regulations and become net contributors to the EU budget, but are denied the right to work in most other EU countries, and receive only a quarter of the subsidies granted to the Western farmers who are now their competitors.

As Dr Anthony Coughlan, an economist at Trinity College Dublin and Ireland's leading Eurosceptic, puts it in an open letter to his new fellow-citizens: "Welcome to the EU - the prison house of nations."

The battle of the ounces is rejoined

There is excitement in Newbury, Berkshire, over the threatened prosecution of a popular local butcher, Martin Fidler, for the crime of continuing to sell his meat in pounds and ounces.

Since the dismissal by the European Court of Human Rights of the appeal by the late Steve Thoburn and four other "metric martyrs", the Local Government Association has instructed councils to carry out a blitz on the 40,000 traders whom the Government estimates are still defying the EU's metrication laws.

Mr Fidler says that "only one in a thousand" customers asks for meat in metric, and that the majority have no idea what a kilo is. Polls show that more than 90 per cent of voters oppose use of the criminal law to enforce use of metric measures. But Sean Murphy, West Berkshire's trading standards manager, says: "We can't pick and choose which legislation we enforce."

We must therefore assume that Mr Murphy will soon visit his local Tesco which, as national policy, defies the law by advertising prices of goods in weights most of its customers understand.

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