By UN convention the UK has a vast area of fishing waters stretching up to 200 miles away from its shores. However, under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) launched in 1983, all EU countries have access to everyone else’s waters. Leaving the bloc means Prime Minister Boris Johnson has the opportunity to reclaim these waters, although EU leaders are pushing for continued access.
Back in 1982, there were numerous disputes involving fishing, including one in which Norway even requested to enforce Norwegian laws on their ships in UK waters.
Documents unearthed by Express.co.uk at the National Archives reveal a request from the Norwegian government to overfly part of the UK’s fishing waters to search for some of their own vessels.
Norway had imposed a prohibition on herring fishing by its own vessels under its country’s national laws.
However, due to the CFP, Norwegian vessels were allowed to fish in other countries’ waters, where Norway had no legal jurisdiction.
Therefore, the Norwegian flight tasking authorities asked Maritime Headquarters, in Pitreavie, Scotland for permission to conduct an air search in UK waters for Norwegian vessels breaking this law.
The purpose of the flight would be to look for and photograph a number of Norwegian purse seine fishing vessels, which they suspected were herring fishing in the North Sea.
They proposed that they would prosecute them once they returned to Norway.
The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (DAFS), however, rejected the request.
One official said in a letter to the Maritime, Aviation and Environment Department (MAED): “I felt that inevitably a flight in the area would be with the prime object of exercising some kind of control over the Norwegian fishing vessels involved and that this would not be acceptable to the UK who, as a Coastal State, has sole responsibility for fisheries enforcement in the area.”
A note from the Maritime, Aviation and Environment department to legal advisers read: “DAFS were unhappy about the Norwegian proposal and said that the Germans had suggested something similar in Brussels recently.
“The idea had been rejected on the grounds that the enforcement of fishery regulations was for the coastal state.
“Although it was difficult to advise without knowing more of what the Norwegians actually proposed to do, you suggested that, while we could not stop them from flying around, we should be unwilling for them to carry out any policing activities in our waters.”
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They added that Norwegian vessels are subject to Scottish or English law, including laws from the European Economic Community (EEC), the precursor to the EU.
However, Maritime Headquarters organised for an RAF Nimrod aircraft to conduct a patrol and offered the Norwegians relevant information from their own patrols.
With the UK now leaving the EU, the CFP will soon be a thing of the past.
Outside the bloc, as an “independent coastal state”, the UK will have the right to control what is known as its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a vast territory stretching up to 200 nautical miles or up to the median point between its neighbours (eg. halfway across the Irish Sea or the English Channel).
Mr Johnson has claimed he will stand up for British fishermen and is now under pressure to deliver on that promise and take back control of UK waters.
Meanwhile, EU leaders are pushing for continued access, as their fishing industries will suffer if that is cut off.
In fact, the UK’s waters have six times the fish stocks of the rest of the EU combined.
However, negotiations will be a balancing act, as a scorned EU could impose high tariffs on UK fish imports, which would hurt the British fishing industry.
This is especially because the majority of fish caught by British fishermen is then sold to the EU.
Fishing waters will therefore be one of Mr Johnson’s biggest tests in the upcoming trade deal negotiations.
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