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The latest developments in the science of fish stocks are a further blow for opponents of the EU’s powers over fishing policy. (Read about them here.)The Common Fisheries Policy quite rightly gets a lot of criticism for the way it has been implemented, but its nationalist critics want to abolish it altogether.

Their claim is that national management of fish stocks will be more effective than EU management. This is of course evident nonsense – fish do not carry passports and cannot be kept in one set of national waters or another – but opponents of the EU do not care. They will cling to anything they think will support their case, and one such argument has been the decline in fish stocks.

The maximum amount of fish that can be caught without imperilling the future existence of fish stocks altogether is falling because of over-fishing. This over-fishing is blamed on the EU. National rules would be tougher, so we are told.

But researchers from the University of York and the Marine Conservation Society have found that catches before the second world war were much higher than they are today. In fact, fish catches were at their peak in 1937, when they were 14 times what they are today. It is the application of modern technology that has done for the fish stocks, not regulation by the EU.

Stocks of halibut and haddock are now as little as 1 per cent of their former levels, hake and ling are done to 5 per cent and cod has fallen to 13 per cent. These are catastrophic falls and need to be recovered, but national regulation is not the way to do it.

Think about it. The demand for the repatriation of fishing policy from Brussels is driven by a desire to increase the number of people employed in the UK fishing industry. While it might be possible to negotiate some sort of opt-out for Britain from this EU policy, there would have to be substantial concessions in return. And then, when British government ministers are triumphantly taking these decisions rather than the EU Council of Ministers, are we really to think that the decisions on the future quota sizes will be tougher? Remember, the demand for repatriation is from people who want more jobs in fishing, which can only mean catching more fish.

The Common Fisheries Policy is not perfect – far from it – but both the logic of politics and the logic of the seas suggest that a national fisheries policy would make matters worse and not better.

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