Fishism

As I write, the eleventh hour neareth.

This is the last article I’ll write about Brexit before the year is done—shortly we’ll know whether there’s a deal or not.

A CNN anchor said yesterday that there’s plenty of fish in the sea, prior to a segment suggesting the exact opposite given the French position on access to British waters.

It’s popular at the moment to do live feeds from trawlers, if you excuse the pun, and hear grouchy skippers—brexiteers to a man—explain how the UK will take back its waters in January.

The cherry—or possibly the scampi—on the crab cake was listening to Michael Gove, the only gerbil in the cabinet, explain that Britain wanted the same as ‘our friends in Norway and Iceland.’

During the 1970s, Britain and its Icelandic ‘friends’ engaged in the tenth cod war since medieval times, the third war over the decade—it was prompted by the imposition by Iceland of a two hundred nautical mile EEZ, or Exclusive Economic Zone, effectively closing its waters to the UK.

The context was the approval in the United Nations of UNCLOS, the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. The two-hundred-mile limit ended the Portuguese cod fishery in the Grand Banks and Greenland and upended many other traditional fisheries—in some cases, owners and operators relied on lack of oversight to continue fishing—it was more profitable to risk vessel impoundment and pay the fine.

Britain’s Norwegian ‘friends’ also had a tiff with the UK after World War II, aprehending vessels fishing in their waters—when the Brits took the matter to the International Court of Justice, the court ruled for Norway.

But there’s a major difference between the position taken by Iceland back in the day and the UK situation now.

In Iceland, the sector is responsible for 25-30% of GDP. In the UK, it’s 0.1%, smaller than pet food, the turnover of Harrods, and the lawnmower business.

We live in a world of euphemism where vaccine hesitancy is a thing, old people are seniors, and enemies are friends—right now the EU and UK are busy with their friendship, trying to resolve a couple of sticking points on a possible Brexit deal.

European citizens don’t care—or even know—about a deal, although governments and some businesses do. The fishing lobbies are fairly vociferous, not just in France but also in Holland and Denmark, so the issue is tricky, particularly with French elections coming up. EU TV channels largely ignore Brexit, but British media are consumed with the issue.

The UK EEZ—a good part of it is below one hundred nautical miles.

The UK is surrounded by continental neighbors, and the EEZ is split in a convoluted manner—the shortest distance between Britain and Norway is two hundred fifty nautical miles, so at this point each nation gets one hundred twenty-five miles.

Countries with few neighbors have much larger zones—in Europe, Portugal has the largest of all, two and half times more than the UK, due in part to the islands of Madeira and the Azores. Of course, France and Britain have larger areas overall, due to overseas possessions—these remnants of empire mean that France has the largest EEZ in the world, besting the United States.

The sea is the tragedy of the commons, a plaice (sorry) where in the end, no one is responsible for the collapse of stocks. The more there is, the more you fish. British industry, which is worth one thousandth of the financial sector, underperforms significantly—sixty percent of the quota has been sold by British skippers to other countries, meaning that more than sixty percent of the landings are due to foreign vessels—contractually.

With the exception of salmon, eighty percent of the British catch, of which sixty percent is not caught by Brits, goes to the EU.

To make matters worse, the EU is the UK’s biggest export market. Out of the big five, only salmon is an outlier. And to make that more interesting, salmon is cultivated, not fished, so it shouldn’t be in the chart at all. Shellfish include crabs and other crustaceans, but also mussels, oysters, and scallops.

To add a touch of regional angst to the mix, salmon is grown in Scotland, and mussels and oysters are grown (not fished) in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. And for a bit more fun, Scottish salmon farms are largely owned by Norwegians.

So our chart collapses to four bars, of which the shellfish are partly cultivated,  but not in England. And out of the eighty percent exported, forty-eight are already caught by non-UK fishermen—no wonder the UK wants to separate the issues of fishing rights and fish export.

The English call it cakeism, a new word derived from the notion the UK can have its cake and eat it—the neologism appeared during the long march of Brexit, and the concept was touted by Boris.

Times are tough, despite the British PM trumpeting in the pre-election frenzy that the EU Brexit deal was oven-ready.

Part of the problem is that cakeism is not fishism. Britain doesn’t much like fish—about twenty percent of folks never eat any. This quote on Quora from a retired Church of England vicar says it all.

I believe that seafood is highly popular in the UK – isn’t fish and chips our national dish? Personally I can’t stand any seafood so I don’t really understand your correlation – it is not as if we all live near the shore and rely on the sea as a larder. I think it more plausible that shore dwelling people eat a lot of fish because it is fresh and convenient; I was brought up in an agricultural area and enjoy meat and veg which is equally fresh and abundant.

I presume the good vicar feels the same way about bananas and mass wine—the concept of international—not to mention national—trade clearly eludes him.

The UK doesn’t want to have its fish and eat it too—which would make a lot of sense from a public health perspective.

The deal is anything but oven-ready, and I don’t augur well for the outcome—but then there’s a lot of money to be made with a hard Brexit.

I’m not sure what the Brits have ready to put in the oven on New Year’s Day, but I’m pretty sure it’s not fish.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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