Many British fishermen believe European Union rules mean that too often they are confined to port.
A majority are expected to vote ‘leave’ in this month’s referendum on the UK’s EU membership.
At North Shields on England’s northeast coast the white fishing industry has been in decline. For many of the fishermen, catching prawns and lobster is the only way to make a living.
Many fear further changes to the European Union’s quota system will make things worse.
Alan Jenkins, 63, has been fishing for more than half a century.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen now, but the EU fishing policies is not doing us much good at all. Just being an inshore fisherman, you know. Might change if we come out of the EU, we never know,” he said.
Campaigners for the UK to remain in the European Union argue that most British catch is sold to other EU states.
Countries can exchange their quotas, but fishermen here say they can’t afford to buy shares under the transferable system.
“The EU is doing nothing for the fishermen here, they cut down the quotas, it’s based on a quota system, and they just not allowed to go out and fish. And yet French fishermen can come in and Spanish fishermen can come in, and they can all just take the fish around British waters. So what’s that all about?” asks Paul Fletcher, manager at Lindsay brothers fish retailer.
The reason is that under the Common Fisheries Policy, European fishing fleets are given equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds up to 12 nautical miles from member states’ coastlines.
How a decision to leave the EU would affect the UK’s fishing waters might depend on the access Britain granted to foreign vessels.
Many in the British fishing industry look to Norway, which lies outside the European Union but signed up to the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement.
Fishing was a deciding factor in the 1972 referendum that rejected EU membership, as fishermen struggled to preserve rights in their own waters.
Many argue being outside has left them better off.
“We want to keep the Norwegian stocks for Norwegian fishermen… Our success until now is that we kept our own hand in preserving – especially the cod stock,” said Tyrgve Myrvang, chief executive of Norges Rafisklag (the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organisation).
“If we compare to what is happening in the North Sea and the EU area, especially around the UK, we can see that the fishing stock is not taken good care of,” added Johnny Caspersen, the organisation’s chairman.
Norway is the world’s second largest exporter of seafood; 60 percent of those exports go to the European Union.
The bulk of that share – 70 percent of the fishing industry export value – comes from salmon farms.
But being outside the single market means the industry has to pay tariffs to sell the fish to the EU. That is relatively cheap for whole fish, with a tariff of two percent. But high tariffs of 13-20 percent levied on smoked salmon mean fish is sent to Poland or Germany to be processed.
Some salmon farmers say they would rather be in the EU.
“Today, most of the salmon are exported as whole fish from Norway to the EU. By being in a system where we’d have no tariffs, more of the salmon would be processed and more value added here in Norway, and we could create more jobs for the local community, in this area for example,” said Jan Borre Johanson, a salmon farm manager from Skjervoy, north of Tromso.
Membership of the EEA rea grants Norway access to the single market – but forces it to implement over three quarters of all EU laws that it cannot influence directly.
Norway has access to the single market but is forced to implement EU laws it can’t influence directly.
Some Norwegian politicians compare trying to have independence AND market access to trying to have your cake and eat it.