British fishing stocks will be guarded from EU nations’ trawlers by a post-Brexit armada. Environment Secretary Michael Gove will get his own navy to prevent French, Spanish and other boats from fishing illegally in UK waters.
Under a new ship-building program, £350 million ($467 million) is being spent on four powerful fishery-protection vessels, one of which will be used in the Falklands. Another one of the boats, HMS ‘Forth,’ is currently undergoing sea trials before entering service in 2018, equipped with a 30mm gun, machine guns and a helicopter.
The boats could be backed up by long-range drones and satellite technology, which will detect any vessel straying into UK waters. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will fund the surveillance of UK waters with a multi-million-pound contract under the Marine Management Organization.
“Leaving the EU means we will take back control of our waters. Access will be subject to negotiation, and will support a thriving future for our fishing sector,” said Defra. “We are reviewing all aspects of fishery management, including satellites, patrol vessels and aerial surveillance.”
The fisheries issue has caused extreme tensions between member states, and is likely to resurface during Brexit negotiations. Around one third of the EU’s stocks are fished from British waters, and heads of state are likely to push hard to get access to them. Danish, French and Spanish operators have said they will challenge any attempt to keep them out of UK waters.
Rumors of French-backed blockades are beginning to emerge over suggestions that Channel ports could be cut off for the British. South West Fish Producer Organization’s Jim Portus said the operation must be intelligence led.
He said: “Yes, there are risks of port blockades, especially by the French.
“They do it so often. But we already have technology like satellites, plus CCTV cameras on many vessels. There will be 1,000 UK fishing vessels just itching to report any illegal activity.”
Any rules designed for the post-Brexit period must be enforceable, or Britain risks being laughed at by Brussels, according to Admiral Lord West, a former first sea lord. He revealed in the House of Lords the Fishery Protection Squadron currently in place covers 80,000 square miles of territorial waters, usually with one of three old vessels.
The squadron boarded 278 fishing vessels in 2016-17, falling dramatically from 1,400 in 2011-12.