Brexit: Fish-y Business

I had wanted to write a more comprehensive post on the Brexit state of play, but (sorry for whinging) I have a sprained thumb, which is making everything hard, particularly typing.

So we’ll just stick to a couple of observations and hope our Brexit mavens pile on.

Neither side is acting much like it wants a deal. Perhaps this is just a weird posturing phase resulting from the EU trying to figure out how to contend with the theatrical and deliberately provocative Boris Johnson. Or it may be the EU taking the gloves off now that the UK is no longer in its club.

“Die in a ditch” Johnson maintains he won’t ask for an extension and won’t take EU rules. Wellie, in contrast to what the British press would have you believe, even Canada, which Johnson insists is his current model for the UK-EU trade deal, did in fact agree to treaty provisions that are functionally equivalent to the “level playing field” that Michel Barnier featured prominently in his draft negotiating guidelines and he reiterated were required for a no-tariffs, no-quotas treaty.

Oh, and the UK also signed up for them in the Political Directive. Yes, that document is legally non-binding, but as we’ve pointed out, in negotiations, retrading parts of a non-binding letter of intent usually comes at a cost, including potentially cratering an agreement

There is also a lot of consternation on the UK side about Barnier in many (but not all) respects taking what has been seen as a maximalist position, particularly in putting forth a negotiating process of seeking an overall deal, so that various issues could be traded off against each other. The UK wants much more of an “each issue its own deal” approach, as Switzerland has. The EU has indicated for some time its not amenable to having a ton of bilateral agreements.

Taking a very high level view, what Barnier appears to be doing as his default is working forward from the Political Declaration. If you were dealing with a rational counterparty, it would be entirely logical to say, “We agreed to these general ideas, all I’m doing is following them.” And the Political Declaration envisaged the soft Brexit that Theresa May wanted to achieve. It goes on about having a close relationship and also mentions that the trade agreement could be negotiated under Article 217, which is also referred to as an Association Agreement (the other avenue for negotiating a trade pact with a third country is under Article 207, under which the EU has reached both simple free trade agreements and “comprehensive economic trade agreements” as it did with Canada.

The wee problem is that that very Political Declaration set forth a very different sort of relationship than Johnson campaigned for, both when he became PM and in the later general election. And the EU is very rule and procedure driven. Even if Barnier were to want to accommodate Johnson now insisting on a very different agreement than the UK signed up for, he’s likely have to go back to his principals and get them on the same page. The signs for the last year if not two is that EU leaders are sick of how much time Brexit has consumed and they think they have more important things to do. So I’d hesitate to attribute the seeming maximalist position of the negotiating guidelines as some sort of Barnier scheme as much as him seeing his options with EU leaders limited by the Political Declaration.

And remember, this text is a draft and past Barnier drafts have wound up getting important edits, so we’ll have a much better reading of where his principals are soon.

Having said that, Barnier has been more testy, not in his tone of voice but with the speed and pointedness with which he has slapped down the Government of late. For instance, from the Guardian in late January:

The EU has rejected Boris Johnson’s claims that there will be no checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland after Brexit, with Michel Barnier warning such checks are not dispensable.

Days after the prime minister said there would “emphatically” be no checks on trade across the Irish Sea, the EU’s chief negotiator told an audience in Belfast that the UK had agreed to them as part of a “creative and flexible” solution to the Irish border question.

There was no provision for ignoring them in the legal test of the withdrawal agreement, Barnier said in a speech at Queen’s University. “In agreeing the [Northern Ireland] protocol, the UK has agreed to a system of reinforced checks and controls for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.”

“The text is very precise. I always tell the truth,” Barnier said…

Calling Johnson a liar, while accurate, isn’t the sort of jibe the Barnier of recent years would normally allow himself. This may reflect the general antipathy among EU leaders for Johnson, who they (not incorrectly) regard as significantly responsible for Brexit, as well as an unprincipled opportunist.

The UK also seems very unhappy that Barnier is insisting on the CJEU as being the arbiter of EU law:

Should a dispute raise a question of interpretation of Union law, which may also be indicated by either Party, the arbitration pane l should refer the question to the CJEU as the sole arbiter of Union law, for a binding ruling. The arbitration panel should decide the dispute in accordance with the ruling given by the CJEU

I find it hard to fathom how Brexiteers talking themselves into thinking this would come down any other way.

Needless to say, the gap between the two sides now is so large that as Clive put it:

Not even worth having a discussion on the shape of the table, given how far the EU and the UK apart are. At the moment, there ain’t no table.

Fish fight. Someone has to clue me in. The UK and EU are making fish a do or die issue, each putting it on a short list of must haves when the fishing industry is a trivial part of both economies.

The bone of contention is that the UK’s territorial water have most of the fish that both UK and EU land. But most of the fish the UK consumes (about 80%) is from Norway, mainly the cod for fish and chips. By contrast, most of the fish pulled from UK waters (as well as shellfish like scallops and langoustine) go to the EU.

And in the first round of the spat, which took place outside the negotiating table, the UK fishermen lost:

Now here is the even nuttier part. The EU is willing to trade getting access to the UK’s fish for making concessions on the vastly bigger and far profitable financial services industry, which per the Financial Times accounted for 7.1% of the UK economy in 2018. I am not making this up. Not only is the EU dumb enough to make this offer, but the UK, which really needs those services exports, is saying it’s going to die on its hill of fish instead.

The Financial Times points out that fishing is the mainstay of many coastal towns, and I can see knock-on effects (loss of summer tourist business if these towns start having boarded-up sections) but this still seems blown way out of proportion. Here is the theory of the case, again from the Financial Times:

A dragged out fight over fish would be in neither side’s interests. But it may be extremely difficult to avoid: the UK and the EU have opposing positions, little room for manoeuvre and even less time. Britain and Brussels will have only 11 months after Brexit day to negotiate a new relationship and avoid a hard exit when the country’s transition arrangements expire at the end of 2020. 

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has vowed that fishing will be treated “as an essential economic interest for our country that must be defended” in the talks. It is a position that has been adopted by the entire EU, which insists that “existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources” should be maintained.

Brussels insists that any move by Britain to reduce access to its fishing waters will be met with an overwhelming response: the loss of much needed market access rights for UK fishermen, and potentially even the breakdown of trade negotiations, creating the risk of a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020. 

For the EU, “everything in the future relationship negotiations is linked”, says one senior European diplomat. “It’s not just the French, there are seven or eight member states highly interested in this. The UK is going to have to compromise [on access for EU fishing fleets].”

This sounds all well and good until you come to grips with significance. As Wikipedia puts it:

Fishing is a relatively unimportant economic activity within the EU. It contributes generally less than 1% to gross national product.

The European Commission website shows the fishing industry employed 180,000 people in 2017. Roughly 218 million people were employed in the EU in 2018. Let’s say roughly 215 million were employed in 2017. That means the fishing industry provided 0.08% of EU jobs.

Could someone please make sense of this for me? Or per the last tweet above, is this fishy business all posturing and really no issue?

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80 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    I’ve often wondered why fishing interests have such disproportionate influence in many countries (not just Europe – Japan is another country whereby major national goals have been sacrificed for the sake of the whims of a few whalers). I think that it really comes down to raw political numbers. Fishing jobs are highly concentrated in geographically isolated areas, which means they will have a significant number of elected representatives in their national capital full time agitating for their perceived interests. They also (perhaps related to the risk adverse nature of the fisherman’s life), tend to vote establishment parties. And add to that public sympathy and the romanticism of the life of the trawlerman, and you have an industry with far more political clout than an equivalent sized widget making industry.

    An exception to this would be Ireland – the fisheries industry in Ireland has frequently been undermined in negotiations in favour of farming. I think this simply comes down to the relative power of each lobby within those key rural constituencies.

    You can go through it country by country and see the various subtleties. In Norway, fishing is very influential with a small number of rural nationalistic parties that often have a powerful role in coalitions. In the UK fishing towns are scattered on generally Tory voting rural fringes along the coasts. In Spain and Portugal fish are seen as central to their diet (and culture), not a fancy food for expensive restaurants and again, account for a good number of rural elected representatives.

    I also suspect that the nature of fishing (fishermen rarely see themselves as being in competition with each other) makes them more efficient at ruthlessly pursuing the overall aims of their industry. Quite simply, they work together to ensure they are not ignored, in a way in which other, larger industries often can’t manage as they are too busy trying to undercut each other.

    As an aside, it was stupid of the EU to try to link fishing to financial services. They can force the UK’s hands simply by doing as the French did with Guernsey, and refuse to import fish until there is an agreement. I suspect that the motivation of offering this (I don’t think its a really serious proposal) is to put forward the message that fisheries cannot be isolated from the overall final Agreement.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Remember, my family comes from Maine and was mainly fishermen, going way back.

      The only time the fishing industry was every influential in the US was when it was whaling, and that was because it was very lucrative then. So I have to confess to finding it hard to wrap my mind around fishermen having clout.

      Reply
      1. Clive

        In the UK (or Scotland, to be more precise) it does go way back. Look at the “Results by county” in the 1975 (EEC, as it was) referendum. Scottish counties where there were (are?) strong fishing communities were either the only one of a few to reject membership or made what was otherwise an overwhelming “yes” vote nationally much more patchy.

        Reply
      2. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Yves.

        One wonders if you have distant relatives in Mauritius and South Africa. Some American whaler crewmen decided to stay when their ships docked and married local women. One wrote to the Carnegie foundation to fund a library in Mauritius. The library, a colonial building from the 19th century, still exists.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I will have to see if any of my ancestors were actually whalers; my father did an extensive genealogy as a retirement hobby. They all settled very early in Casco Bay, but my understanding is they mainly did shorter-haul fishing, which would still have the boats out 4-6 weeks (how that worked exactly I have never worked out…were the fish salted or iced? Ice framing was a substantial business back then, there was a pond up near where my father’s family lived that served that purpose). My ancestors often were sea cooks or captains, which meant they got an extra share of the distribution of proceeds.

          Shorter: on my father’s side, I come from an old but utterly undistinguished family.

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      3. Charles 2

        I think fishing industry influence in France compared to the US is linked to smaller mobility : even if fishing becomes a small part of the activity of a coastal town, the rest of he activity is staffed with people with family link to fishermen, because that what the population is made of. Hence, outsized influence.
        Also there is a difference between a country with a coast and a continent with a coast…

        Reply
      4. FKorning

        It’s not really about rational economics. Britain is an island nation that still hangs to an identity of pleasant pastures and buccolic fishing villages. Fishing is an almost irrelevant sector in terms of modestic product and nutrition, but identity politics means the masses are doing it a disservice by encouraging its chauvinistic side. The truth of the matter is Britain utterly mismanaged its waters and depleted its shoals for hundreds of years. In times of penury and paucity, rationing is the only rational course of action. Rationing, in this case, involves setting quotas and concessions. The sea is vast, schools of fish migrate, antiquated rules of flags of convenience make nationality nebulous, and the tragedy of the commons make it hard to police and control cheating. A system with exceptions and loopholes would collapse the stocks within a blink of time. Thus the only efficient way to manage fisheries is to get everybody on board. Same rules for all, maximum transparency. Protectionist fishermen need to grow up.

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        1. Clive

          I’ve nothing against quotas for conservation purposes, but if the quota system is flawed and results in over-fishing and over-representation of factory ships and multinational fleet ownership at the expense small-scale fishing businesses and boats under 10 metres, then the quota system needs, channelling my inner Nancy Pelosi, ripping up and starting again.

          But if the system is the EU CFP and the EU CFP seems unreform-able due to political inaction, there will be political blow-back. I hate to tell you, but the argument — which runs that you just have to put up with EU policies because, well, it’s the EU and its just absolutely fabulous isn’t it — has been well and truly lost in the UK. The UK gave it 47 years, so you can hardly accuse the UK of being quitters and walking away at the fist sign of trouble. Telling the people who are, right now, today, living in Great Yarmouth (see comments at the foot of this) to give it another 47 years and things might get better for them in terms of their fishing businesses isn’t a winning political strategy. You might earnestly believe it, I don’t doubt at all your conviction and sincerity.

          But in order to convince a majority, you need more than that.

          Reply
          1. FKorning

            I think your complaint is that the CFP is terrible (the lesser weevil).
            That may be, but we need one, and one that includes EU fishermen.

            A lot of people equate CFP and CAP and conflate fishing with farming.

            Bar environmental and climate change concerns that affect a vast geograpihc region, these two have a very different scope.

            Farmland is consistent in both geography and political boundary, fields are contained and under control ina any given country.

            Fishing, by which I mean catch-fisheries (not farmed) are a clumsy polictial construct on a very fluid 3-dimensional ocean. The fish don’t give a cahoot about borders and economic exploitation zones. It’s extremely difficult to lay a claim on a particular shoal.

            The only thing that makes sense, in terms of reducing conflct and increasing fairness, is to have as a vast a regional fisheries board as one can, inclusive of the whole region.

            It might make more sense to split the CFP into hrydrological regions, ie the North Atlantic, the North Sea, the Mediterranean.

            Reply
    2. Winston Smith

      I grew up in a region (Gaspe peninsula) where fishing was one of the main resources and the cod was dried on endless rows of drying racks and whilst I can’t explain in a few words the outsized importance of such things when they disappear, their symbolic power should be recognized

      Reply
      1. John Jones

        “Could someone please make sense of this for me? Or per the last tweet above, is this fishy business all posturing and really no issue?”

        It’s simply called politics – as Winston says, it’s totemic for EU and UK.

        Reply
      2. Eclair

        And on the other side of the North American Continent, in the Pacific NW, affirmation of the Indigenous Nations’ salmon fishing rights, ‘guaranteed’ to them in return for their ceding land rights, has been an on-going struggle. The salmon were (are) central to their culture, in a truly sacred, as opposed to an extractive, manner. As you say, Winston, their symbolic power should be recognized.

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      1. Math is Your Friend

        I thought American refusal to allow WTO appointments has made enforcement impossible, or is about to do so?

        Reply
        1. Clive

          We’ll all have to see what happens to the WTO.

          In terms of any EU Member State which might decide to leverage any issues or delays in WTO hearing and resolving trade disputes, while it is entertaining for both the UK and the EU to play games of “your bad faith dealing is worse than my bad faith dealing”, “no my bad faith dealing isn’t as bad as your bad faith dealing”, it’s a zero sum gain and eventually, you’d hope, the handbags-at-dawn duelling would be replaced by something a little more mature from such, apparently, professional negotiating teams.

          Or, conversely, if the WTO isn’t the appellant body, then both the UK and the EU stop the silly antics of “my jurisdiction is better than your jurisdiction” and accept, like everywhere else, ISDR based on neural joint committees.

          Reply
    3. Peter

      not a fancy food for expensive restaurants and again, account for a good number of rural elected representatives.

      Quite funny that the preferred dishes uses fish no longer fished by Portuguese fleet because: “With the advancements in freezing and transportation in the 1900s, salted cod from North America declined and Iceland and Norway became the major supplier of the salted fish to Portuguese markets.” Knut Hamsun in some of his stories refers to the connection with Portugal
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacalhau
      Bacalhau has become expensive still used very frequently in Portuguese cuisine and still a staple here (Azores) for Christmas. It is still a common dish, especially Bacalhau com Batatas, very tasty and nutritious. Bacalhau is usually sold salted.
      We still have some commercial fishery here – swordfish, sea bream, tuna, rockfish, bonito etc. – but it is usually to supply the Islands as fresh fish.

      Reply
    4. Paul Jonker-Hoffrén

      My personal take is linked to my background in industrial relations. Fishermen have boats, and they can block harbours to enforce their political demands – just like stevedores sometimes still do in e.g. Finland.

      Reply
  2. Clive

    Ah, the fish.

    From a domestic perspective, as the article entirely correctly points out, economically, this is a minnow (readers beware, this comment could contain an excess of fish metaphors).

    Politically, however, it is anything but. For one thing, it’s a stick to beat the Scottish Nationalists with. Scottish independence, certainly the Scottish Nationalist Party’s (SNP’s) variant of it is predicated on EU accession. Or re-accession, I’m not sure which you’d class it as. EU accession mean the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which means giving up Scottish territorial waters to the EU’s tender ministrations. This will cost it big time in votes, even if it’s not any part of an independence referendum (merely having the policy expresses a willingness to throw certain key sections of your voter base under the bus) so for the Conservatives, it’s a gift that gives in so many ways.

    Moreover, aside from the cod (sorry) arguments about the CFP, which are purely political, there’s a valid principle. The Commission is being ridiculous. Saying that the UK should have special FTA terms demanded by the EU because it is closer than, say, Canada is is such rank baloney one wonders whether Barrier was even trying to be serious in saying it. It’s like the UK saying it would do an FTA with Norway, but because it’s just across the North Sea, we’d want some of their oil and gas reserves. Or the EU saying it would do a FTA with Venezuela, ordinarily it would ask for control of the oilfields, but because it’s a little far away, it won’t on this occasion.

    Saying dumb things which are obviously try-ons makes it look like this is merely Commission posturing, which is fine for a first salvo in a negotiation, but hardly to be treated seriously.

    I’ll have more to say on NI, but that’ll spill over into a separate comments, I can’t cram this one too full of stuff like it’s a tin of sardines.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I agree distance was not the best way for Barnier to make his argument. Much better would be the degree of current and likely future continued trade. The EU and UK are still very much enmeshed, witness autos.

      But I don’t think it was as bad as you suggest. Trade experts all say the potential for US-UK trade is limited, with distance being at or close to the top of the list.

      And what do the UK and Canada have to trade anyhow? Canada sells trees. What does the UK sell to Canada? Stilton, lovely preserves, and clotted cream? Shooting sticks? Actually, pharmaceuticals and maybe machine tools but beyond that?

      Reply
      1. Clive

        It’s futile to look at fish (or, even more generally, all EU/UK matters) and how they are dealt with in the FTA through a lens of economics and trade. Rightly or wrongly, it is not how the UK Government is thinking about it. Hence fisheries being given a prominence which bears no resemblance to the materiality of what’s involved. Similarly Gibraltar.

        Like I say, I’m not passing judgement on whether the UK Government should let economics trump politics when negotiating the FTA. Merely expressing the reality (I think it is the reality, anyway, based on what the UK Government is saying and doing) that that’s what it is concentrating on.

        And in terms of the politics, Barnier made an argument (which I’ll paraphrase as “we’ll treat the UK differently than we treated Canada because it is closer”) which, domestically, got ridiculed. Which has political implications, as does the EU’s negotiating position that, never mind Canada+, you’ll not get any better than Canada- (or even Canada – – -) because you’re too big an economy. Barnier might have said that previously and I missed it, but if that was indeed the case, I never heard it ’til now.

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        1. John Jones

          Barnier is in a somewhat difficult place – the WA 2 as signed/agreed and the PD ( non binding and aspirational ) means that the EU have got a much harder Brexit than under May( bot).

          One has to wonder whether nice , suave M Barnier is therefore upping the ante to try and get the UK to sign up to ever more tortuous terms – ie now trying climate change targets and linking to Brussels agreement.

          At some stage an adult EU person and , possibly, adult UK leader will need to get in the room and come up with an appropriate fudge /minimum viable deal.

          Already the IFO institute in Kiel us revising its forecasts that indicates the UK and EU would likely take a similar hit , economically if ,as seems likely, a no deal /cliff edge beckons.

          Reply
          1. Yves Smith Post author

            As I indicated, you should read the PD. It was NOT revised to contemplate a harder Brexit. I was surprised when I read it. It has very clear language regarding level playing field, for instance.

            Now you can argue that the UK has since opted to occupy a different place on the famed “Barnier’s ladder”. But I think process-wise this puts the EU in a bit of a bind, since what they signed off for was the PD, not Johnson’s super hard Brexit (which he may not mean as much as he pretends to mean, on top of that). Barnier needs a mandate, he’s got the PD, he doesn’t have a mechanism for getting the EU Council to agree to all that much different.

            I think this also may account for Barnier being more direct more often than usual, as well as his uncharacteristically ineptly-formulated Canada remark. Maybe he’d concluded there’s no point in trying all that hard. Johnson really is loathed in the EU, while EU leaders had some sympathy for May even as she drove them nuts (they regarded her as genuinely well intentioned, stuck in a very difficult political position, and somewhat limited as a person).

            Reply
      2. PlutoniumKun

        It would well be a simple matter of the size of individual constituencies – US ones tend to be much larger (in population terms) than a typical European or other one. So in Maine, fishermen’s concerns get swamped with other interest groups, especially agriculture. In Ireland, similarly, we have large multi-seat constituencies which encourages politicians to go to the ‘core’ concerns of their areas, which in rural areas, is almost always agriculture. But in the UK, with comparatively small single seat constituencies, there is always going to be a number of Parliamentary seats which pretty much belong to a fishing port like Grimsby. The Japanese and Norwegian systems similarly seems to give a disproportionate power to remote rural constituencies. Its not necessarily deliberate, just the accidental by-product of how you construct your electoral system, and whether fishing communities dominate a town or are one small element of a larger urban area.

        That’s my theory anyway. Charlemagne in the Economist had similar theories.

        Another factor that makes fishing touchy is that it is intensely geographically concentrated. In some European ports it generates more than 30% of local output and more than 50% of jobs; more if associated activities like transport, shipbuilding and fishmongering are included. If the industry suffers, the effects are starkly visible. Some of the poorest parts of north-west Europe are fishing towns whose trade has withered. Grimsby, on England’s east coast, is so down-at-heel that Sacha Baron Cohen set a film there. Concentrated deprivation creates political pressure

        .

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        1. Clive

          Yes, this is very relevant. My hometown is Bridlington so I know the east riding fishing towns like the back of my hand. Fisheries was integral to these local economies when I was a lad in the 1970’s and most were decimated by the CFP. Grimsby is especially, well, grim and although attempts have been made to improve the situation, at the end of the day, if you’re a small community with more-or-less one road in and one road out, London is three hours away by train on a good day with a very limited service (if any) and there’s a lot of competition for industrial development elsewhere, it’s an uphill struggle to say the least.

          Fishing is about the only viable business capable of generating anything approaching wealth in towns like mine (or where I used to live growing up).

          Saying “why such a fuss about fisheries” (said by either the metropolitan elite in the UK or if you’re not really in possession of a granular knowledge about the UK as a geographical area, its population distribution and the infrastructure available in particular locations) has more than a whiff of “let them learn to code” about it.

          Reply
          1. m-ga

            Isn’t the issue larger than just CFP though? In that, back in the 70s, the British government:

            1. Deliberately negotiated a poorer CFP fishing quota, in return for increased access for financial services.

            2. Subsequently sold much of the UK’s fishing quota to non-UK trawler companies.

            The fishing issue was then presented to the UK fishing sector (and the UK public) as “EU have stolen our fish”.

            Reply
            1. Clive

              The “UK fishermen (and they were largely men at the time I think) sold off their quotas so nya nya nya it was all their fault” is, at the very kindest assessment simplistic and at worst downright misleading.

              It is like saying the small town mom and pop store sold out to Walmart who wanted to buy the commercial real estate up and build one of their supermarkets. Yes, the mom and pop store sold out (in my hypothetical example). But what choice did they have when if they didn’t, Walmart would find somewhere else to build. The result, being driven out of business, would be the same. The one, bad, option was to emerge from it with a little cash to show for it.

              The in’s and out’s of this subject are explored here http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/articles/selling-silver-enclosure-uks-fisheries but common sense is all that’s needed. If you’re a small scale fisherman and owner-operator of a modest vessel, you get, obviously, a small quota. In a good year, your catch is okay and you cover your costs and make a small profit. But in a lean year (and just because you have a quota entitlement doesn’t mean you can automatically catch all the quota allows you to; that’s not how fishing works as any fisherman can tell you) you make a loss and because even if you might have a good year the following year, you can’t catch any more than your quota to build up financial reserves to trade through the next bad year (or cyclical downturn in the market for fish).

              Large-scale fleet operators, on the other hand, can put away more in the good years because, for a given catch, their unit costs are lower due to economies of scale.

              One thing I really, really dislike is blaming people who have been impoverished through events and choices not of their own making for not only their own predicament but either failing to somehow solve it or, even more obnoxiously, being told they’ve made it worse by having to take some of the few sub-optimal options they did have available to them. The amount of poor-shaming I’ve seen from self-described progressives during Brexit has shocked even me, and I sat through the Hillary 2016 campaign.

              Reply
              1. vlade

                TBH, it’s a hard argument that they were impowerished “though events and choices not of their making”. Small-scale fishing (and farming) were _always_ marginal enterprises, where the owners were usually “in-family” and knew well what they were getting into. You’d similarly argue that small artisants/craftsmen were impowerished by mass manufacturing (there are differences, of course, but IMO the crux remains).

                It doesn’t mean we’d let them go just like that, but there are options available to them. For example, NZ milk farmers created Fonterra one of the largest co-ops in the world, and seem to be doing ok (when I used to live in the NZ, milk farmers were hard working, but generally pretty well offf).

                There are I believe fishermen’s coops (“Production organizations”), but it’s really really fragmented too (something like 24 across the whole of the UK).

                Reply
                1. Clive

                  You can’t pool the quotas. The quota is attached to the vessel https://www.gov.uk/guidance/understand-your-fishing-vessel-licence

                  And dairy production can pool infrastructure such as tankers, milk processing (where you can do value-add) because your raw material, the milk, is a single product line. For fish you catch what swims into your net, whatever species this is. So there’s little point in going in on, say a kipper smoking production facility if you can’t be sure that you’ll catch the right fish for that.

                  It’s easy to handwave theoretical solutions but much harder to come up with real, viable worked-through business cases.

                  Reply
                  1. vlade

                    The point of a commodity coop is not to pool the quotas, but to
                    a) increase pricing power
                    b) smooth the earnings
                    c) provide lobby power

                    I do not see why it would not work in the UK fishing industry, especially since they do work in the world – Japan, which you seem to be familiar with, has tons of them (JF Zengoryen being the umbrella). Japan even has a special law for them, since 1948.

                    Norway has Norges Sildesalgslag for pelagic fish, and IIRC some others too.

                    But if you want to be closer to the home, Scotland has a working coop – Scottish Seas of about 50 vessels and 200 fishermen. Not massive, not new, but working nevertheless.

                    I’m sure they would all enjoy being told that they are handwave theoretical solutions, with no viable worked through business case (Norges Sildesalgslag being around for about 100 years with revenues in 100s of mil EUR).

                    For some reason, it’s just English who never managed to get something going.

                    Reply
                    1. Clive

                      The only CFP-governed example is the Scottish one and that is for marketing and branding (plus a joint wholesale operation) which does nothing whatsoever for pooling individual boat catches or income sharing for the trawlermen.

                      Anything which is outside the governance of the CFP like Japan and Norway in terms of pooling is like comparing salmon with lobster.

                      CFP restrictions don’t allow Tom to have an under-quota catch one week but pool with Jerry who had a bumper catch he’d othereise not be able to utilise because he was in excess of his quota. The risk of not being able to land your quota but then not have the ability to (hopefully) have a better haul next year almost guarantees a small-boat death spiral if the vessel hits a bit of bad luck. The rigidity of the quotas makes a marginal business type even more risky than it already is.

                      Yes, you can say that, economically, that’s just the way it goes and if an industry subtype (small vessel fisheries) goes tits up, too bad.

                      That’s the economics-based viewpoint. If, then, a political party has a policy response which removes the market-distorting quota system then the political party will gain votes. So, here as always, in the long run, politics always trumps economics. So I’ve never understood the head-scratching that economic arguments fail to prevail over cut-and-dried political ones.

                    2. vlade

                      I’d be rather surprised if CFP ruled that fishermen can’t pool catch and income share. For one, I’d expect it to be possible to set up a company (owned by the fishermen) that would buy the catch from the fishermen and then distribute dividends from the surplus to smooth the earnings. After all, there are such companies already – except not owned by the fishermen. The problem I could see here of course is that any such income is taxed differently from the income that the fishermen make otherwise, which people may not be comfortable with (as long as they don’ t think they need the income smoothing).

                      I very much doubt that CFP would have anything to say about it, but I’ve got better things to do than read it in detail to find out.

                      As an aside, vaguely browsing this, it looks like you _CAN_ share quote via leasing within an Producing Organisation (which is an entity under CFP).

                    3. vlade

                      I also vaguely remembered this:
                      In Malta (EU, CFP), _all_ fishermen belong to one of the two fishing coops, which (according to FAO):
                      “offer various services […] including fish purchasing and sales (including exports and imports); supply of ice, fishing tackle and other inputs; cold storage facilities; insurance coverage; and facilities for packing and processing of fish. ”

                      Sounds very much to me like pooling individual catches via a single-buyer institution (“fish purchasing and sales”).

                    4. Clive

                      It’s the other way round, the Production Organisation (which is a geographical distribution mechanism) gets the overall quota and then this gets allocated to the fleet. The PO is an administrative entity only.

                      And yes, the small vessel owner operator could join a company. But then they would not be a small fisherman, they’d be an employee of a big business. Thereby contributing to the drift towards the mega fleet multinationals.

                2. Yves Smith Post author

                  This is a really neoliberal argument. “Oh, they all should have left those dying businesses”. Connections and role models are hugely important in career choices. And even in the supposedly mobile US, the typical American lives only 18 miles from their mother. Family ties are very important for emotional and practical reasons. Families are still the ultimate safety net. And to a lesser degree, community. My uncle, who lost his job as a teacher (long dumb story) became a lobsterman because that was a fallback. He was able to live in a family house below the poverty line even though his 70s despite having diabetes (which severely limited his mobility as he developed balance problems) due to having VA medical care and some friends who’d mind him and run errands for him.

                  Reply
              2. m-ga

                I was going more with the UK government selling off the quota (or engineering the same), rather than the quota being voluntarily sold by the type of UK company which operates a couple of small boats out of the traditional UK fishing towns.

                So (on a quick Google search), things like the high concentration of ownership of UK fishing rights in the hands of a few of the very wealthy:

                https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/10/11/fishing-quota-uk-defra-michael-gove/

                Or the (at best) ambivalent attitude of the UK government towards maximising the fish quota for UK-based (not just UK-registered) vessels:

                https://ukandeu.ac.uk/what-would-brexit-really-mean-for-the-uks-fishing-industry/
                https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/britains-fishy-role-in-the-quota-hopping-scandal-1315516.html

                The last-posted article is from 1996. And the issue goes back further, to the cod wars in the 60s and 70s. Fishing has had totemic UK importance for a while. It was one of the original issues with which UKIP spearheaded anti-EU sentiment (and, that despite Nigel Farage having at least nominal responsibility for UK fish as a UK MEP).

                So, it’s apposite if nothing else that fishing comes up again as an immediate post UK/EU exit issue.

                The kicker, I guess, will be if Scotland leaves the UK and takes all their fish with them.

                Reply
            2. Jokerstein

              No. The reason this is a big issue is that on day before UK, Norway, and Denmark applied to the EECs (more than one of them), the existing Six added to the acquis communautaire the Common Fisheries Policy, extending open access to the EEC members to all fishing grounds of member states.

              Given that Denmark (including Greenland), Norway, and the UK controlled the vast majority of what would become EEC fishing territory, this was seen as a cynical and bad-faith action by the EEC that set the tone for the UK’s relationship ever since.

              As a result of the CFP, Norway declined to join the EEC, and Greenland left in 1979, after gaining partial independence from Denmark.

              CFP at the Cesspit of Lies

              Reply
      3. Math is Your Friend

        Hi Yves –

        A little poking around turned up this…

        Canada’s exports to United Kingdom amounted to
        $12.6 billion or 2.8% of its overall exports.

        1. Gems, precious metals: $8.2 billion
        2. Mineral fuels including oil: $954.8 million
        3. Machinery: $549.9 million
        4. Wood: $287.7 million
        5. Aircraft, spacecraft: $272.7 million
        6. Electronic equipment: $249.9 million
        7. Ores, slag, ash: $217.9 million
        8. Nickel: $212 million
        9. Inorganic chemicals: $211.5 million
        10. Medical, technical equipment: $202.6 million

        It’s been a while since our largest exports were trees and beaver pelts… but I am a little surprised grains didn’t make it into the top ten.

        :)

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Haha, thanks! Although I suspect that what happens to trees, and I should have remembered this, is similar to what happened to our furniture manufacturers. Trees used to go from US and Canadian forests to North Carolina (mainly) to be made into furniture. They now largely go to China. So any Canadian-origin wood is now more often part of value-added products largely made elsewhere.

          Reply
    2. titus.xfx.andronicus@gmail.com

      “Perhaps this is just a weird posturing phase resulting from the EU trying to figure out how to contend with the theatrical and deliberately provocative Boris Johnson.” Wait for it… its more than fish, Barnier has said he wants not just the fish but Scotland itself. This while Scotland is fighting within the U.K. to get out U.K. There are so many things wrong with this, even saying it. I suppose Canada should have thrown in the Québécois in their deal with the EU as well.

      Truth? There is no truth here because there is no agreement to the underlying reality, thus facts. Without facts one can neither agree or disagree. As someone who designs and runs sociological impact statements or outcomes based on climate chaos, globalism, Neoliberalism, Banking, and energy use, IMNSHO all things are going to go local. The underlying assumptions on all current trade agreements or planned trade agreements is based on outdated thinking. By 2030 they all will fail. We must reduce carbon fuels by 7.6% a year. Starting 1/2020 – how’s that going? Global Trade in a world of run away climate chaos is a meaningless concept. Disclosure, I got skin in this game, I control both a large energy hedge fund and in turn several banks, we are done with carbon fuels and investments (the carbon stays in the ground).

      Reply
  3. Clive

    Northern Ireland (NI to its friends) got a special mention in the Commission’s Recommendation for a Council Decision document:

    The negotiations of the envisaged partnership should be premised on the effective
    implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and of its three Protocols. In this
    context, the envisaged partnership should continue to protect the Good Friday or
    Belfast Agreement reached on 10 April 1998 by the United Kingdom Government,
    the Irish Government and the other participants in the multiparty negotiations in all
    its parts, in recognition of the fact that the peace process in Northern Ireland will
    remain of paramount importance to the peace, stability and reconciliation on the
    island of Ireland.

    What can we make of that? Well, behind the bureaucratic-diplomatic mash-up sermonising, NI got a mention for very good reason. Those who’ve been following Brexit will know all-too-well how the border in NI became contentious and needed to be resolved in the EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement by means of the Irish Protocol, which in effect kept NI in the EU’s Single Market for goods. NI becomes a special mini-Member State (technically referred to as UK (NI) in the legal detailing), so goods placed on the UK (NI) market can circulate freely across (primarily) the border with the Republic in the South. All well and good, then?

    It would be, if this wasn’t NI we were talking about here. Immediately it got back into session (after a two year plus hiatus the details of which I’ll spare readers from here) it promptly rejected the Irish Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement. Sinn Féin rejected it because it came from London and everything that comes from London is, in Sinn Féin’s eyes, automatically bad. Even good stuff like the Irish Protocol. The DUP rejected it because they’d have loved a hard border, and this (the Irish Protocol) isn’t one.

    So, what now? Well, the UK government can try to step in and implement the NI legal changes (and also the practical day-to-day deliverables like checks on goods for Single Market compliance, how customs should work, market surveillance for stopping “leakage” of UK-market standard goods into the Single Market and so on). Back to Indirect Rule (like what had to happen when Stormont wasn’t sitting as everyone had gone off in a huff over various things), then.

    That’s one option. But of course, it was one thing to impose Indirect Rule where there was no NI Assembly. It’s quite another thing to be in situation where, after many decades of conflict, you solve the main issues by handing devolved powers to NI, to be operated jointly by the unionists and the nationalists, but then when there’s difficult problems like Brexit to resolve, the devolved assembly demurs, London has to say, “oh, you know those powers we gave you, you don’t mind if we have them back for a few months, faff around with some things in terms of trade, borders, the economy etc., legislate in Westminster, then, there you go, you can have the powers back again”.

    Nowhere in the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement does it say that’s how it should work.

    The other option is that NI fails to implement via devolved powers the pre-requisites for setting up the de facto and de jure matters needed to be in place to manage the Irish Protocol and the UK Government also says “this is a devolved competency, they’ll (NI) have to sort it out, we can’t intervene”. What would happen then?

    Well, the EU would in the first instance probably levy a fine. As the sovereign, the UK Government is liable for that fine. The UK Government could absorb the fine out of UK current expenditure (and then probably have to go along with Indirect Rule to fix things to stop more EU fines or enforcement proceedings). Or it could simply shrug and say that it’s just like you’ve borrowed a friend’s car and got a speeding ticket, you (NI) are responsible, you’ll have to pay the fine out of the NI administration’s budget.

    At which point, of course, the whole mess would land in the realm of NI politics. The Commission seems to have finally twigged that NI politics generates industrial-scale finger pointing — and it would be right in the thick of it, having now been placed in the position of having to enforce the fine which the UK Government insists it sorts out with the NI Assembly directly. The other option is the EU rescinds the Irish Protocol on the grounds of wilful, blatant non-compliance. At which point, the EU is imposing the dreaded hard border.

    I’m trying, honestly, I’m really trying here. But I can’t resist a chuckle. The EU enjoyed chewing on the border on the Island of Ireland during the Brexit negotiations and found it to be a tasty treat which it savoured. But, here as elsewhere, a moment on the geopolitical lips, a lifetime on the geopolitical hips. It’s no use now the Commission waffling on about “peace, stability and reconciliation on the island of Ireland” (translation: oi, you, yes, you shower in the UK Government, make sure you keep your pesky little regional parliament from causing any trouble and pick up after it if it creates any mess). It’s made its bed in NI and it will jolly well have to lie in it. Expecting the UK Government (which at best offers an attitude of benevolent neglect where NI is concerned, at worst careless neglect) to sort out the problems that the agreement you yourselves insisted on created is not going to be a happening event.

    Reply
    1. Jabbawocky

      Presumably the vote in Stormont is for optics only, because the withdrawal agreement is not a devolved matter? Or are you saying that the GFA gives Stormont some kind of veto, or apparent right to a veto?

      Reply
      1. Clive

        No, it’s not a veto. The devolved competencies are used to implement the terms of the Irish Protocol. The NI Assembly is responsible, or should be, for creating legislation and business-as-usual management to make the Withdrawal Agreement work “on the ground”.

        Reply
    2. Maff

      Both witty and erudite. Who can resist, “a moment on the geopolitical lips, a lifetime on the geopolitical hips” Bravo!

      Reply
  4. The Rev Kev

    This may be one of those emotional issues for the UK in the same way that the colour of their passports were. How far can it go? I think here that it should not be forgotten the series of Cod Wars between the UK and Iceland where in the 70s, Royal Navy frigates would escort British fishing vessels. There was even a Cold War aspect to the Cod Wars-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cod_Wars

    Reply
  5. John A

    An update from France. Fishermen who have been prevented from fishing in UK waters are threatening to block the port of Calais.

    Reply
  6. Ignacio

    I believe fishing is not that important economically but it is from the environmental POV and that is why it is a priority in the EU. Managing fisheries has always been a headache in the EU. So, nothing new on this front.

    Reply
    1. Polar Socialist

      This. As difficult I may be to believe, sustainability is the most likely explanation for the EU stance. Preventing overfishing is the very heart of The Common Fisheries Policy, and EU doesn’t want UK to have complete freedom to loot right next door.

      That, and and it may prove to be a great bargaining chip later on.

      Reply
      1. Clive

        Counterfactual in the face of Norway and Iceland not being CFP members. Conversely, with neither the UK, Norway or Iceland in the CFP, it would be the EU’s non-cooperation which would be the anomaly.

        And not all species migrate and those that do don’t all migrate in the same way.

        The CFP is an economic tool first, any environmental or conservation benefits are a nice-to-have.

        And even on the most generous and balanced analysis, the CFP is an imperfect mechanism.

        Reply
        1. Polar Socialist

          EU actually has several agreements with Norway for mutual access and conservation. Same technically goes with Iceland, but that agreement is “dormant” at the moment, whatever that means.

          Of course CFP is an economical tool, but the purpose behind is sustainable fishing instead of the tragedy of the commons.

          And certainly it’s imperfect, like most things achieved by negotiations and compromise. But it’s better than being without. Which is the point of this discussion about the point EU is assumed to have regarding this minuscule part of it’s economy.

          Reply
          1. Clive

            Exactly, conservation and access agreements can be, well, agreed as stand-alone side-deal (if needed).

            In fact, this goes right to the nub of the matter. It didn’t come down from a mountain on a tablet of stone that everything has to be lumbered in with everything else in a FTA. EEA/Ffta members, like Norway, have an FTA with the EU. This specifically doesn’t include fisheries. Fisheries are (or like Iceland, aren’t) added on as a separate matter.

            It’s — as has been discussed here before — a “shape of the table” point. The EU thinks the one single table should have everything on it. The UK thinks it is more like a nest of tables. Unless this point is sorted, and I can certainly foresee it is insoluble in the political atmosphere, this is going to result in no FTA.

            Reply
            1. Math is Your Friend

              I have a feeling that countries with a specific issue to resolve, like Spain over Gibraltar, would prefer an integrated agreement that gives them clear influence over the whole thing.

              It also probably gives them allies who have their own specific local goals, all of which provides more pressure on the UK to deal.

              Reply
  7. John Beech

    So the EU wants to play hardball with the UK? Fine by me!

    What if little green men (Russia) begin infiltrating a Baltic state? Who stops them?

    Citing Article 5, will the USA jump into a shooting war . . . over Lithuania?
    What about the much maligned UK, the one with a permanent seat at the Security Council? The same one with significant military force? Will they . . . crickets?

    Europeans are going to be harsh to their own detriment. They totally misjudged the British resolve and character and ended up with Brexit. Just leave Barnier in charge and see what happens.

    Reply
    1. Clive

      I voted Leave, but these sorts of arguments are what gives Leave a reputation for, shall we say, being a little unhinged. There’s a retired colonel who lives next door to my mother-in-law who puts spikes on his fence to stop her cat coming into his vegetable patch who says much the same thing. Often accompanied by cheeks a little more highly coloured than a beetroot.

      Reply
      1. Tony Wright

        Somebody should inform the dear Colonel that cats are obligate carnivores – and maybe to find something real to get his underwear in a twist about , like climate change perhaps. My father was petty like that – ugh!
        In my experience people who stuff up or lose control of the important things in their lives often obsess about minor details and elevate their importance to ridiculous levels.

        Reply
    2. vlade

      Assume that. And the UK would help exactly how? It may (still) have some of the best light infantry around, but SAS/SBS alone ain’t gonna stop any little green men. Nuclear deterent? France has it too last time I looked (and, for all the fun on French army, it is four times the UK’s, and was actively deployed more than the UK one I’d dare to say).

      Not to mention that you give the right to be resolved and have character just to the British, and say that the EU must roll over on its interests. Don’t see that working out very well either.

      Reply
    3. Peter

      What if little green men (Russia) begin infiltrating a Baltic state? Who stops them?

      You really believe that to be any possibility in the real world? Why would Russia suddenly become concerned about piddly little countries somewhere along the Baltic Sea? Maybe because they are interested in hookers?
      Maybe in the Brits fantasy world were Russia has suddenly become an enemy because some bogus “Novichuck” miracle play.

      Reply
    4. David

      Europe has a long history of imperialism, and the UK was the primary check on that. Now Germany has the reins uncontested, and ye olde Holy Roman Empire is free to go back to its roots (with a dominant Germany). Expect to see the EU transform into a legitimate military superpower over the coming decades (or sooner) – the prospect of little green men will only spur it on.

      Reply
  8. jabbawocky

    The problem seems to be that Boris was so keen for a deal back in October that the EU had him over a barrel and he was forced into a whole bunch of concessions. The question is when all the kicked cans run out of road and Boris’ chickens come home to roost, what does he do?

    Th UK team seem very clear that the UK shouldn’t be an EU rule-taker after brexit, ie shouldn’t agree to adhere to EU market regulations. The real evidence of balance of power will be how many UK regulations the EU signs up to after brexit (note, close to zero is almost certain).

    To me the big unknown is how much Congress are on board with ther Trump administration’s efforts to secure a trade deal with the UK that prevents close alignment of the UK with the EU. My understanding is that only Congress can ratify trade deals, not the president. Is this right? If Congress then doesn’t play ball then the whole brexit strategy of the US/UK right is contingent on the Republicans winning back Congress while they still have the presidency.

    I have no idea how realistic this view is but looking at international power dynamics, it seems reasonable to suggest that brexit has turned the UK from a lynchpin in relations between the US and EU, into a mere pawn in a transatlantic trade war for global regulatory superiority.

    Reply
    1. vlade

      One thing to take into account there is that Johnson might got over the barrel on the WA – but that holds only if you assume that Johnson will hold to it. Which, I’m not so sure TBH. Yes, I know it’s a bad-faith, international-law and all that, but I got the feeling Johnson doesn’t give a toss.

      Reply
    2. Penny

      Bear in mind the determination of Irish American congressmen, not all of whom are Democrats, to protect the Good Friday agreement. It is also relevant to appreciate that these congressmen are likely the only ones that pay attention to ‘trade’ with the EU/UK; fewer than 50% of them have passports, fewer than 10% have some knowledge of a foreign language, even fewer have any interest in climate change related issues.

      The trade deal with the EU is far more important to the Trumpocracy than any arrangement that could be made with the overweight blond guy with bad hair who nobody understands (seriously–his talk is obscure bluster with a faux RP/BBC former maybe rugby player cadence–this makes it difficult for most US nativists to understand.

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        Yes, I don’t think this has really sunk in with the UK establishment yet, despite Pelosi making it absolutely unambiguous on her last visit across the Atlantic. The Irish American mafia in Congress (on both sides) has made it absolutely clear that no trade deal gets past them without it being GFA compliant to some degree. Bear in mind of course that many Irish American politicians are about as Irish as Elizabeth Warren is Cherokee, but it suits them politically to say they are.

        Reply
  9. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    A friend and former colleague from Peterhead reckons that most of the UK fishing crews and processing factory workers are from eastern Europe and many of the ships are owned by foreign firms. There’s little British about them, so they can be sold down the river.

    Reply
    1. stan6565

      A BBC documentary about fishermen in Cornwall, last night, showed a few non-native fishermen, but as a guess, 70 or 80% were Cornish.

      The was a very interesting argument expressed in strong favor of Brexit, too. Not just because it was well argued, in a calm and civil fashion, but strikingly, because the person saying it was Bulgarian deck hand.

      All the fishermen I ever see in Norfolk, where I spend a lot of time, are Brits.

      I don’t have any knowledge of processing plants though.

      Reply
  10. David

    Barnier had little choice but to draft as he did. Whatever the UK may now be saying or wanting, the other 27 have signed up to a Political Declaration, and there is zero appetite for changing it. Given the way most European systems work, Barnier had to include everything, pretty much, in the PD, and not add anything else to it. He’ll require political backing if he’s going to move any part of the draft in the direction of the UK, and at the moment there’s no incentive to do so. It’s also tactically useful to camp on the current PD-based draft, because when the UK objects the response is all ready: “you’ve signed up to that in the Political Declaration.”
    It’s true that such declarations are not legally binding, but they have considerable political force, and there is always a price to pay in rowing back from them. After all, two (or 27) can play at that game, and the EU could try reopening all sorts of things as well, if it wanted to.
    Clive’s point about NI is a good one, and I recall that a year or two ago several of us drew attention to the problems the EU might cause itself by lightheartedly getting involved in NI, and it looks as though this might be about to happen. So far as I can see, this vote can’t affect the legal validity of the Protocol, since it was signed by a government representing the UK as a whole, and didn’t have to be countersigned by regional assembles. But obviously implementing the Protocol is a different thing entirely, and there it’s going to be a question of devolved legislatory powers. I would hope (no more) that a Court would say the NIA can’t take practical steps to stop HMG implementing a Treaty, but we’ll have to see what the experts think. (By the way I’m astonished there hasn’t been more coverage of this in the UK media).
    For what it’s worth I think the fisheries point is largely symbolic and sentimental. It was Aneurin Bevan who said that Britain was “built on coal and surrounded by fish”, and they were perhaps the two emblematic occupations, with farming, of the traditional British sense of themselves. Coal is gone, farming has become big business, but there’s still a sense of admiration for the fishermen braving the sea and the weather to bring back the daily meal. (And I don’t think this sympathy is entirely misplaced). When you have an economy largely characterised by theft, rent-seeking and arbitrage, something like fishing stands out, even if it’s viewed in a rather anachronistic fashion.

    Reply
    1. vlade

      In countries with constitutions (most of them, anyways), treaties have force of law and override domestic law. I believe that is the convention in the UK as well, and would be ruled so by the courts.

      So NIA opposition should be just points scoring and time-wasting. But if HMG wants, it can waste the time with the best of them.

      Reply
      1. Clive

        Yes, legally the EU can stiff the UK with the consequences of the Assembly not taking the required actions for lawfully complying with the Irish Protocol’s stipulations.

        But I have a jumbo bucket of popcorn ready for when the EU compels the UK Government to impose Indirect Rule on the province (which flies in the face of the Good Friday Agreement) to fix such things but at the same time is brandishing that same Good Friday Agreement like it’s some sort of inviolably sacrosanct holy artefact akin to the Turin Shroud.

        As I said at the top, it’s politics which is ruling this particular roost, not economics. The Commission can try to head off the worst of the politics, or it might hope to, but the reality is it can’t escape it. No matter how many pages it pads out Recommendation for a Council Decision documents to and no matter how much finger-wagging they contain.

        Reply
  11. vlade

    I’d like to point out that the UK is still a party fo the London Fisheries Convention of 1964, which allows vessels from six EU nations (France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands) to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of the UK coastline IIRC. This was of course irrelevant when part of the EU, but now is still in force as to my knowledge it wasn’t ever repudiated (repudiation deemed irrelevant since the EU law extended the same and more).

    All the Spanish fleet need to do is to move the registration to France, and the UK can do squat.

    I do wonder how many other things like these will come up?

    The post says that the UK fishermen sell their fish into the EU, but it’s actually that they _land_ most of their catch in the EU. Which is a massive differnce, as fresh fish commands higher price than processed ones (for the fishermen).

    So if the EU tells the UK fishermen they can’t land their fish in the EU, then their will have to compete with cheap imports from Norway (remember, no tarrifs and import rules on food?) for the UK market, and get less for their fish destined for export.

    So the UK fishermen, unless they figure out something really dramatic, or get substantial life-line from a government, are in serious trouble either way.

    Reply
      1. vlade

        Don’t think so (the economic zone declaration had no impact on pre-agreed treaties) – althought it does appear that the UK used the break clause couple of years back (post Brexit vote), so it’s actually vacant. Duh.

        Reply
        1. Clive

          But the EU accession treaty the UK signed (and subsequently added to in numerous other EU treaties) were terminated in the TFEU Article 50 process.

          The EEZ can now, legally, be reasserted by the UK.

          Reply
  12. Synoia

    In the UK, historically fish was poor mans’s protein. Keeping the poor fed was a major facet to avoid the poor from revolting.

    Historically Wacking someone else’s cow was a hanging offense. Not to mention wacking a Deer, Swan or other “royal” animals, or even caught hunting in the New Forest.

    If I recall correctly there are no, or very, very few, places the poor can freshwater fish in the UK. The waters and fish are privately owned. For example, I cannot recall eating Salmon before coming to the US.

    I suspect that’s why fishing rights in the open sea get so much attention.

    Reply
  13. Nat

    “Fishing accounts for 0.04% of our economy.”

    I am not a Brit so I must apologize preemptively for any inaccuracies or misrepresentations, but I did live in the UK from spring 2011 through fall 2016 (there for the Brexit vote, before and after) and was in Norfolk, an area with some of the strongest “out” vote %-ages on the Brexit referendum. The point I am getting to is that if this “obsession” with fishing isn’t just pure nuttiness, then it may actually reside in what % of the minds of the Pro-Brexit voting block it occupies, which is politically far more important than what actual % of the real economy fishing occupies.

    To back up my claim, let me direct your attention to Great Yarmouth. Great Yarmouth in Norfolk was one of the strongest “out” votes in the Brexit referendum. During my time living and working in Norwich I visited Great Yarmouth, it was interesting but deeply depressing. The residuals of the existence now there are dependent on a particularly tacky (and in my personal opinion, “desperate”) Coney island style boardwalk, which can only hope to cater from visitors so far away (Great Yarmouth is not exactly widely known as a tourist destination much beyond Norfolk County let alone beyond the UK), and on top of that the chilling winters (… and falls, and springs) on the North sea means that beach-boardwalk style tourism in Great Yarmouth is also heavily seasonal and said season isn’t very long.

    “How does this place sustain itself or exist?” I wondered while visiting there, in November, decidedly the off-season when it was obvious that the small amount of extremely short-lived seasonal tourism left Great Yarmouth bearing more in common with some of the abandon mining towns I had visited in the US southwest then with a formerly bustling UK town with a non-zero amount of history: birthplace of Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson and where his original “column” still stands (the one in Trafalgar square in London is a later made copy of this one), the source of the “Red Haring” (discussed in more detail below), etc… I decided on brunch and located a dinner that looked authentic for locals – easy to locate in the off-season because almost everything else was closed down in this near-ghost town with the wind whistling in off of the North Sea forebodingly. The locals in the diner where quiet, subdued, and had the sunken tired eyes and that distinct type of obesity that comes from a mixture of malnurishment and a high calorie diet that is prevalent in Chris Hedges’ styled “Economic Sacrifice Zones” located in “developed” nations the world over.

    The solution to providing the answer to my question came by asking my server what she recommended I see while there. She recommended the “Time and Tide Museum.” While geared towards more of a family-with-young-ones type of experience the Time and Tide Museum did have my answer. For at least 1000 years (literally) Yarmouth was built off of fishing. Among its many historical contributions, the famous “Red Haring” of parlance comes from the “Red smoked Yarmouth Hairing”; a specially prepared Yarmouth Hairing smoked so long it had turned red in appearance. The Yarmouth Red Hairing was so rich of pungent savory smell and taste that besides being a delicacy, fox-hounds were also trained by dragging a Yarmouth Red hairing across the training-fox’s path as it was incredibly effective at shaking off all but the most well trained dogs and thus could weed out the best fox-hunting dogs from those who would need more training (this is supposedly where the modern use of “Red Haring” comes from.) Even some prized meals in multiple Mediterranean countries had been concocted specifying “Smoked Yarmouth Haring” among their recipes, and some of these recipees were developed hundreds of years ago. But the Time and Tide museum also makes it quite clear that what really killed fishing in the area – and thus killed Great Yarmouth as a whole and equally most of the similar myriad coastal towns on the North sea throughout the UK – was over-fishing. The Europeans didn’t haul off the fish, the Brits hauled them all out on their own until their population and local ecosystem almost completely collapsed and would never return like it once was.

    So what does this have to do with the EU, Brexit, and a whole country whose economy is 99.96% not-dependent on fishing? Well in terms of raw economics numbers NOW nothing (or rather 0.04% more than nothing), but in terms of the optics for populism-based political power that is largely backwards looking to “better times” the answer is: quite a lot actually. While the more-direct comparison of American Appalachia and its coal dependency would be to the British and Welsh coal towns, Britain also has a second Appalachia equivalent that exists along large swaths of its coasts and whose “coal” is silvery and swims in the sea, or at least it once did. Just like Appalachia, these people largely know one way of life, in this case fishing. Similarly just like Appalachia there is the understanding that globalism made their lives worse and thus a pervasive unshakable imagined hope that a sufficient amount of MOFGA (“Make Our Fishing Great Again”) by getting tough with the EU (globalists) will magically restore their entire ways of life to full glory.

    Will it work? No, obviously that is not the problem at all. But as Chris Hedges details, when people have reached a truly broken state of Durkheim’s anomie as is found in “Economic Sacrifice Zones” the world over, the only thing left for them is “magical thinking.” The reality is the fish are mostly gone from over-fishing, and so any way forward for the myriad “Great Yarmouths” that make up the “coastal Appalachia” of the UK is going to have to be on a totally different economic terms, goals, and principals then before. But this has been the way of life in these places forever. For Great Yarmouth it has been the way of life for literally one thousand years if not more (the history of Great Yarmouth gets a little fuzzy before 1000AD). They can’t imagine their society functioning on anything but fishing and no one outside is going to bother helping them figure out or make any alternative at all. There are still some fish left – not much compared to before, certainly not enough to supply the economic foundation for a whole army of fishing towns along the coast of the UK – but what is left of the fish is split with EU fishers. To accept the reality of life that these fisheries are fished out and even with the EU fully kicked out of these areas the “good old days” can never come back, is too much for these devastated people to possibly accept because it is complete death of their local cultural identity and way of life. So in their desperation their magical thinking requires another alternative: “the EU is overfishing our fishing grounds, when they are gone the good old days can come back.”

    The 0.04% of the economy now ascribed to UK fishing is true, but it totally misses the point. In terms of % GDP the UKs finance system represents a grossly disproportionate % of the actual economy while representing relatively few jobs with an even narrower distribution of where those jobs are located (certainly not any in the Great Yarmouths of the world). So in terms of % jobs represented in the UK by fishing, it vastly exceeds the 0.04% of GDP. More importantly in terms of % jobs represented in the UK BEFORE FISHING COLLAPSED AND WENT AWAY you are talking about a very much larger % of the economy in terms of jobs (that are now missing and thus not factored into current economic calculations). Then when talking about entire local economies comprised of a very large % of non-fishing jobs, but all of which are ultimately dependent on healthy local fishing economies you are talking far far greater % of the economy by #-of-jobs (not GDP) still. Thus, sure, UK fishing may be 0.04% of the economy, but it could easily be 5% to 20% of what certain electorates care about. I.e. fishing may have a small actual amount of money left ascribed to it in terms of % money in the real economy now, but fishing still has a very significant amount of “political capital” available to tap into for political purposes so long as one makes a good show of MOFGA-ing from time to time.

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    1. Clive

      This is a very insightful comment made with the sort of dispassionate objectivity that only someone from outside the culture and society being observed can apply. For what it’s worth, it’s a definite contender for “Comment of the Week Award”.

      In terms of the main points, I’d agree that any notion that we can go back to the Good Old Days (MOFGA!) isn’t tenable. Whatever the future holds though, assuming the UK doesn’t end up going along with the current CFP arrangements (or does CFP By Another Name) the increased access to the fish stock would offer the potential to increase economic activity in the coastal towns. Whether that potential can be fulfilled is another matter. But if you live in Great Yarmouth (a place I know well as my parents lived for a time in Norfolk when we came back to the UK from our stint as expats — you’ve captured it perfectly) and you have a reasonable prospect of potential improvements, having something sounds a lot better than having nothing.

      In terms of the out-sized political influence UK fisheries has compared with (rather reductionist) economic dollars-and-cents arguments, the UK’s coastal communities are a national disgrace. “Someone” should do “something” about it. Well, that’s what we’re always hearing. The UK Government could throw money at social projects of course. I say “could” but that is a “should”. However, it is always best if such stimulus achieves some real economic return and a benefit to wider society. Sustainable fishing has low capital requirements, a low carbon footprint given it’s small boats we’re talking about here, is labour-intensive so provides a lot of employment, improves national food security and produces a healthy, natural foodstuff.

      Fisheries, therefore, is a possible solution to a set of problems which are otherwise not at all easy to solve. So that gives it a leg-up in terms of the political arguments. And as for the economics, all other ideas for revitalising coastal communities seem a lot more costly by comparison, so it even potentially “wins” economic arguments, too.

      Reply
      1. Penny

        This entire post is one of the best I have read in years, full of information and insight. Sustainable fishing is not a direction I would expect the current UK government to go in; instead, I expect a lot of noise as the blusterer in chief waves fish as shroud to cover the many devious ways to enrich his pals.

        Reply
      2. Nat

        Hi Clive,

        Thank you very much for your positive take on my comment. When it finally made it up later last night (… what can I say, I am not an early bird much to my perpetual shame) I was worried I had wasted a bunch of time writing it and dumping it into the “void” as the bolg’s “eyes” had all moved onto more recent posts. As long as it resonated with at least one person then I feel vindicated.

        I am far too ignorant of the details to be able to comment on things like CFP, but I would agree that depending on details there are deals that could inject life back into these coastal towns and a good deal of that life could still be fishing (… and would also sadly agree that there are deals that could be made that could still further crush even the residual life out of these towns too unfortunately.) I am too ignorant of what these could or would be so I can’t comment beyond saying I certainly believe key deals could further make or break these communities so the politics of them are worth fighting for even thought they will seem strange to outsiders who look at the 0.04% GDP figure and roll their eyes.

        As for sustainable fishing, I am again ignorant of the details but from my cursory familiarity from my visit it does look like sustainable fishing is definitely possible – if something works fine for at least 1000 years it was probably sustainable for much of that time or it would have broken earlier. From my superficial understanding it was all sustainable right up to the point that the giant super-trawlers started showing up in the 1950s and 1960s where a single boat of like 5 people are now catching the quantity of fish equivalent to something like dozens of independent fishing boats comprising of a hundred (or perhaps hundreds) of people at almost any point in the prior 1000 years. While I can only speculate and must agree that the fishery has collapsed relative to where it once was, it really does look to me like sustainable fishing in the north sea is still possible and is probably mostly a matter of smaller boats with smaller (i.e. more historically sized) nets, and maybe a cap on total boats if need be.

        Smaller nets have another interesting effect that I have heard of from other ecology documentaries: you throw back what you are not trying to catch. With larger nets one tends to catch a lot of “other” things that one was not intending to catch. Worse, as it takes longer to pick out all the throw-back from a larger net once hauled aboard, far more of what is thrown back is already dead from asphyxiation sitting on the boat waiting to be rescued. So with smaller nets one is usually catching a larger % more of what one intends relative to “random” sea critters, and more of the “random” sea critters accidentally collected get returned to the sea while still alive. This allows the rest of the ecosystem to recover which might bring back larger populations of fish slowly over much time. It also employs more people per fish-caught, which is kind of a critical thing for these areas.

        It is a good point about the economics. And again I think it is critical to emphasize that however small a part of the economy fishing is now, that is a measure of it after it has been destroyed as apposed to what it was or what it still could be.

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