Europe Politics

Fishing for Brexit – John Macleod in The Daily Mail


Why should we leave the EU?   The following article appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on Saturday….in  it John Macleod explains clearly why for at least one group of people, leaving the EU is essential.  In it he demonstrates how the EU works for the benefit of the powerful and against the interests of local communities.  He cites my earlier comments  from this article – Why the SNP should be for Brexit

His article is superb and is worth repeating in full.    As always John’s writing is evocative, provocative and perspicuous.  Scotlands fishermen have been betrayed by Scotland’s politicians, not least the SNP who in the 1970’s relied on them for their breakthrough in key seats.   The elites are queueing up to defend the EU because of the privileges it gives them.  They really don’t understand nor really care about the ‘have nots’ who have to bear the consequences of the elites policies.   Here is an example of an ordinary fisherman explaining to Hamid Yousef of the SNP why he is opposed to the Common Fisheries Policy – and Hamid just does not answer…see this short clip…


Fishing for Brexit – Scottish Daily Mail, Saturday 4th June 2016

I am old enough forty years ago to remember the spectacle of lorries in Stornoway harbour, lorry after lorry lined up to be laden full of fresh-netted herring from gaily painted boats with names like Providence, Golden Bough, Olive Branch…

Or the evening of a Lewis summer when my uncle disappeared, with two pals, out into the Atlantic in a little open boat for several hours, and returned with a mighty haul of fish, spilling out of my grandmother’s sink… plaice and lythe and saithe, cod and conger and haddock…

Or the wealth and bustle of the little island of Scalpay, in 1974, at the height of fishing prosperity, with big shiny cars and immaculate modern homes and lovingly tended gardens, seething with children and teenagers… and in the knowledge, then and now, that all four of my great-grandfathers were fishermen.

That, of course, was at the turn of last century, and not in mighty modern trawlers but in big open boats, launched from the most exposed beaches and with no harbour amenities, with a dozen of a crew who had bodily to haul them down and up the strand each day after hours the night before baiting hundreds and hundreds of long-line hooks.

For hours they hunted in open ocean, with no shelter and in sodden hand-knitted clothing; but, at day’s end and however rich or scanty the haul, it was divided evenly between them – and equal portions aside for the widows of the township.

Widows at times abounded, from tragedies off Lewis, Eyemouth and elsewhere. And yet, along all our British coast, men fish, and fish still, in a trade deep in their blood and that has long defined their communities and underpinned a proud way of life.

And now, from their vessels, on the gables of their houses from Kinlochbervie to Mumbles, Peterhead to Porthcawl, blazes a banner – FISHING FOR LEAVE, as lads and men in oilskins everywhere rise in fury against a European Union they have come to hate.

From Fraserburgh, from Mallaig, from Gateshouse and Fleetwood and Lowestoft and the bays of Cornwall and the loughs of Northern Ireland, fishermen are incandescent for Brexit.

They talk of demonstrating in massed flotilla up the Thames; bewail near-empty nets, denuded local fleets and demoralised, declining communities. They are informed, articulate, and – above all – angry: angry at distant EU commissioners, pusillanimous British ministers, backroom deals, cynical trade-offs, slashed quotas, flags of convenience and Johnny Continent trawling daily in their local waters.

And skippers and crew all over Britain have signed up to the Scottish-led crusade of Fishing for Leave, the one issue that – north of the Border – has fired any meaningful life into the EU referendum, otherwise seen as a distant Tory civil war way down south.

‘You can see things happening which shouldn’t be happening,’ asserts David Milne, 52, a Fraserburgh skipper these thirty years and himself the son of a trawlerman. David’s own lad now is often out with their vessel, working year round for whiting and hake, haddock and cod.

Of the repeated diktats and restrictions, the quota decrees and general Eurocratic finger-wagging, ‘we’re always told that it’s mostly science, everything is based on the science,’ says Mr Milne, ‘but it is a political agreement. The Commission will buy off Denmark or wherever, and the UK will roll over.’

The very idea of voting to stay in the European Union is anathema to these men. ‘You’ll struggle to find anyone around here who’s for remaining,’ says Julian Bick, a fishbuyer 720 miles away in Newlyn, Cornwall.


‘The EU has been terrible for this industry. It’s got too big, and it’s corrupt.’

Neighbour Dave Stevens, commander of the Crystal Sea and very active in Fishing for Leave, wholly agrees. He fishes routinely within 200 nautical miles of the coast (in pursuit of wrasse and John Dory, brill and ray and megrim and crab) and believes these should be exclusively British, sovereign waters.

But, under the byzantine terms of the infamous Common Fisheries Policy, they are open to all; Stevens sees far more French and Spanish vessels in his vicinity than local craft. Their governments, he insists, seem to win much better terms for their fishermen and ‘it means that our fleet has declined and places like Newlyn are nowhere near what they used to be.’

It is too easy to become lost in the jungle of brain-sapping detail that is the CFP – which, our lords and masters insist, is only ‘a set of rules for managing European fishing fleets and for conserving fish stocks,’ fish – after all – disinclined obediently to follow national frontiers.

But the CFP is absurdly overcentralized, administered from Brussels by men and women with scant knowledge of local issues and who seldom hear directly from those who best know their own waters.

Most EU member-states have no interest in fishing anyway (after all, quite a number are landlocked) and, while the fishing lobby is very strong politically in, for instance, Spain (notorious for turning a blind eye to the depredations of its citizens off other nation’s coasts) it is, these days, weak in Britain.

Of our entire gross domestic product in agriculture, food production and forestry, only 5% is contributed by our fishermen – not the sort of number that carries much clout in post-Thatcher Whitehall.

As for conservation, all the evidence suggests that 42 years of CFP operation have been a rank failure. Three out of four of the major fish-species are overfished; the total EU fleet is thought to be twice as large as is sustainable. The quota system, too, allows countries of big fishing muscle (like Spain and Denmark) to grab unwanted quota off other EU states in exchange for trade-off on other economic fronts – a ‘quota-hopping’ system which greatly favours huge, industrial trawler and factory-ship operations and that actively penalises small, local but sustainable outfits.


As a consequence, 60% of the entire fish-quota in British waters is in the hands of other EU fleets – and they haul in over £1 billion of fish in our territorial seas.


In Cornwall, local fishermen enjoy just 7% of quota: 80% is in the hands of the French. In addition, many more Continental craft operate in British waters under British ‘flags of convenience’ – many of these vessels built by the munificence of EU grants.

British governments have tried time and again over the years to end, at least, quota-hopping.

Indeed, an Act of Parliament to this end was passed in 1988 – only to be struck down by the European Court of Justice, and this despite (in a world where millions starve) the most offensive impact of quota-rules: fishermen forced to dump up to 50% of everything they catch back in the sea – even when it is already dead.

‘Last week,’ stormed one Shetland fisherman, as long ago as 1998, ‘we, in the Defiant, dumped approximately 320 boxes of good-grade saithe, as we had no quota left – this was at a market value of £18 per box and totals to £5,760.

‘I wonder how many shore-based businesses put that amount of money through their shredding machines last week?

‘The saithe we were catching were an unavoidable bycatch as we were getting good catches of cod and monk mixed in with the saithe and, as there were five vessels working in the same area, you can safely assume that about 1,500 boxes valued at around £27,000 were dumped by Shetland boats with ten miles of the Shetland shoreline.

‘Believe it or not, this enforced destruction, as I have mentioned before, is all done in the name of fish stock conservation…’

Yet fishermen who have refused irresponsibly to discard perfectly good food have been dragged through the courts and viciously fined. There is a far stronger case for legal intervention to ban or at least control actual methods of fishing – indiscriminate seine-netting, or the clam-dredging that, in terms of gathering scallops, makes about as much sense as a cider-farmer harvesting his apples by chopping down the trees – but this is beyond the imagination or wont of the CFP and its Brussels mandarins.

The fundamental difficulty is that, as part of the deal in 1972 for our belated admission to what was then the Common Market, Britain was forced to hand over entire control of the national fishery to Brussels – though granted a decade’s grace before other fleets could muscle in. (The ‘flag of convenience’ craft, though, enjoyed untrammelled access from 1977.)

Ministers have had accordingly, these last three decades, to beg for the right of our own boats to catch our own fish; and the consequences, over time, have been bleak indeed.

In 1973, the British fishing industry employed some 40,000 men: today, it is fewer than 12,000. And, in the last two decades, nearly two-thirds of our entire fishing-fleet has been decommissioned and scrapped.

Slowly, steadily, a way of life has withered with it. In many areas, the fish are gone. No wet-fish are landed at Stornoway these days. You could drag a net across from Ullapool and be lucky to fill a bucket; half of Stornoway harbour, once clotted with drift-netters and creelboats, is now a marina for the gentry.

No boats, now, are lined up on the shingle of my grandparent’s Atlantic shore: there is nothing left to catch. The sea-trout no longer splash in iridescent beauty up Hebridean sea-lochs; the factory-ships have long hoovered up (for pig-feed) the sand-eels on which they depended.

The schools on Scalpay and Eriskay closed years ago and, the length of Scotland, young men are now actively discouraged from entering the fishing-industry, lest there be no future in it. More than a trade is fast vanishing: we are losing a very culture.

It is not entire disaster: increased mackerel quotas saw record British fishing-profit in 2014. Pockets like the Sound of Harris lobster fishing – in treacherous, shoaly waters that call for keen local knowledge – continue to thrive.

But the efforts of our fishermen to demonstrate serious political clout have not borne fruit. The short-lived Fishing Party stood regional-list candidates in the 2003 Scottish Parliament election, but did not trouble the engravers. Jimmy Buchan, star of TV’s ‘Trawlermen,’ in 2010 fought the SNP stronghold of Banff and Buchan (as a Tory) but, despite great local popularity, came a distant second.

It is nevertheless arguable that the mighty SNP slump, a few weeks ago, in their historic coastal fastnesses (Angus, Abederdeenshire, Moray and the Western Isles) owed much to scunnered fishermen, many old enough to remember when the SNP first broke through in 1974 as a redoubtably anti-Common Market party.

Today, less than three weeks from the referendum, not one Nationalist MP or MSP dares support Brexit. Admittedly, British secession from clotted EU cosiness would not dispel all our fishermen’s blues.

‘They would still face fishing quotas,’ points out ITN’s Martin Geissler, ‘which would be negotiated by the same politicians they’ve long accused of letting them down. They’d still have to trade with our European neighbours – a massive market for our fishing industry.

‘And they’d almost certainly still have to share waters with boats from other countries, who’d have the right to fish there too. There are few guarantees in any of this, and the vote comes just as the industry is enjoying increasing profits…’

But only by the whims of officials in another country far away, serving an institution now very much the ‘club of the corporations,’ as Rev. David Robertson – Moderator-Emeritus of the Free Church – slammed it this week on behalf of SNP for Leave.


‘It is about corporate power in hand with government establishments ensuring that whilst there are banks “too big to fail,” manufacturing industries like steel are left to go to ruin. The fact that a progressive party like the SNP, supposed to be on the side of the poor, is standing side by side with Osborne and Cameron, together with their friends in the City and the big American corporations desperate to get a TTIP deal, is something that should be challenged, not celebrated. The EU is a politician’s and bureaucrat’s dream and a democrat’s nightmare…’


Our fishermen see their communities on the brink; their trade in crisis; the waters long harvested by their forebears now despoiled by foreigners – and, in both Edinburgh and London, a political caste who know little and care even less.

From the Shetlands to the Scillies, these men seek only restored national sovereignty over national waters. Let’s give it to them.
See also The EU Referendum – Part 2 – ‘Rushed, ill Thought Out and Extreme’ and European referendum – The TIPPing Point


  1. I too , like John MacLeod remember boats swarming and swapping places on my home pier as they unloaded their catches for train for Glasgow and London. The whole fleet , however could not match today’s single 12 million pound trawler on her maiden voyage to the mackerel spawning grounds off Shetland . She dropped her net , picked up 500 tonnes and headed for home without breaking sweat. As a child i often brought such angled bounty home having fished , watching the mackerel shoals herding the herring fry into the shallows of the village bay . Now they are gone , along with the herring fry ( and to use MacLeod speak) the seals are left to devour their young . Some in my catch weighed close on 2lbs. Today , you are blessed if you catch , or buy one more than twelve inches long and weighing a single pound in weight. I am opposed to European involvement in the legal and political affairs in my country , and will be voting “Out” because I want my own M.P. to be accountable for decisions he or she makes on my behalf. Vanishing fish stocks are not the important issue for me and it is wrong to solely lay the blame with the European fleets . We have raped the seas for too long ourselves.

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