SAVE BRITAIN'S FISH

- HOW IT BEGAN -

In 1976 the then Labour Government passed the Fisheries Limits (Amendment) Act. This established, from January 1, 1977, an Exclusive British Fishing Zone, extending 200 miles into the Atlantic, and to the midway ("Median") line in the North and Irish Sea, and the English Channel.

Within these waters lie what a House of Commons Report, soon afterwards, described as "among the richest waters in the world". But since Edward Heath had surrendered them in advance, British fishermen did not enjoy the immense benefits this Act ought to have conferred upon them. 

Shortly thereafter the European Commission declared illegal, some limited UK restrictions intended to conserve stocks, which applied equally to British fishermen. This was denounced as "conscienceless vandalism" in a resolution from Branch BC (now UC) 147, (Grimsby) of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, to Grimsby and District Trades Union Council, calling on the Labour Party to commit itself to ending Heath's act of folly. This was carried, and a campaign of letters and articles in the local and Labour Movement press followed.

Austin Mitchell, M.P., who held Grimsby for Labour at a very bad time for his party, ascribes his surprising victory in the by-election following the death of Anthony Crosland to the anger of Grimsby people at what had happened to their fishermen. He proved an enthusiastic ally, and in 1977, moved his first Fisheries Limits (Amendment) Bill, to reverse Heath's surrender of what did not belong to him. It did not proceed, due to the General Election. In 1980 the Trades Council successfully lobbied the Labour Party Conference helping in the Labour Party committing itself to taking Britain out of the "Common Market altogether. No further campaigning was felt to be needed. Sadly, in 1983, the pro-EEC Social Democratic Party split the vote sufficiently to prevent this happening. In 1985, the Trades Council delegate to the Grimsby Port Users Committee reported that the Town Clerk had reported that the UK Fishing Minister had said that reviving the Humber fishing industry was "a non starter", and that even the present low level of activity could not be guaranteed. It was decided to take up the fight again. This, like the previous campaign, was entrusted to Eric Clements, President of U147, now Assistant Secretary to the Trades Council. The response was astonishing. Within a year, signed support in their official capacity had been pledged by 30 Trades Union General Secretaries, 60 Labour M.Ps and 9 M.E.Ps including the Leader and Deputy Leader. By 1988, a further 22 M.P.s had added their support, with 6 more General Secretaries.  

Tribute must be paid to Peter Kale, a former Conservative Councillor and a former Director of Grimsby Fish Merchants' Association. Peter combined an encyclopaedic knowledge of the wider aspects of fishing with a deep understanding of Constitutional Law. So from the beginning, it was possible to establish that taking back control over our waters was legally and constitutionally possible, inside or outside the EEC. This was confirmed, in 1986, by former Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning. So by 1987, all the essential principles on which Save Britain's Fish is based, had been established. For these services, Peter was appointed an Honorary Member of Grimsby Trades Council, not long before his sadly premature death.  

In 1988, Jacques Delors made his stage-managed appearance before the TUC Conference. Trades Union leaders, obviously having lost hope of ever seeing another Labour Government clutched at his offer of kindly European laws. Fishermen were forgotten. Alan Sapper, of the Cinema and Television Technicians, and Joe Marino, of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers,remained steadfast.  

In 1987, The Annual Conference of Trades Councils, to thunderous applause, had passed a resolution from the Humberside County Association of Trades Councils, moved by Eric Clements, calling for the repatriation of Britain's fishing rights. This was confirmed in 1988, 89, 90 and 91. In 1989, the East Midlands Region of the Labour Party had passed a similar resolution. Remarkably, in 1987, the Biennial Conference of the Electrical, Electronic and Plumbing Trades Union, had unanimously endorsed a resolution identical with that passed by the Trade Council Conference. Remarkably, because, at that time it was one of the very few unions not committed to leaving the EEC.  

In 1990, Austin Mitchell, M. P. and Eric Clements decided, that it was time to extend the campaign to take in support from all shades of opinion, and Save Britain's Fish was founded, as an autonomous body. John Ashworth, an Internationally respected expert, and former adviser to the Canadian Government, accepted the invitation to act as Conservation Adviser, and Walter Cairns, who was born in Brussels, and is a Master of Laws of Ghent State University and a qualified EEC Legal Translator, as Legal Adviser.  

Michael Shrimpton, Barrister-at-Law, who is a Constitutional expert, has since joined SBF, and Lord Stoddart of Swindon is its voice in the Lords.  

On 23rd April 1993, Eric Clements, now Campaign Director, was invited by the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association, to address its Board of Directors in Banff, Scotland. He was given a warm reception, and the SWFPA gave generous financial support to SBF until losing heart in September 1995, when a number of members refused to waiver and formed The Fishermen's Association Ltd (FAL). This Association has over 140 members generating £50 million per annum and is unreservedly committed to SBF, being its main financial support since.

On 12th November 1994, the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO), formally pledged its support. Conduct of the campaign passed to fishermen and Eric stood down as Director. He is now Trades Union Liaison Officer. Sadly the NFFO have also lost direction believing that coastal state management (not control) with competence for fishing still within the EU is a realistic and attainable objective.  


Nevertheless the very successful Fringe Meetings at Conservative and Labour Conferences and well attended briefings in the House of Commons indicate that Save Britain's Fish is now an effective and respected organisation and that it is now a force politicians will ignore at their peril.


SAVE BRITAIN'S FISH IS SPONSORED AND SUPPORTED BY THE FISHERMEN'S ASSOCIATION LTD