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 ‘Justice for Fishermen

In 1948, Iceland first displayed concern over the potential danger to domestic marine resources from foreign fishing fleets. A formal request to the U.N. General Assembly followed, to sanction an extension of coastal fishery limits to 4 nautical miles, to protect the position. Iceland was ignored. The response marked the beginning of a long-term strategy to ultimately remove all foreign fishery activity from Icelandic waters, which finally materialised in 1976, when Iceland unilaterally imposed a 200-mile coastal exclusion zone.

      Subsequently, the British-owned trawler fleets were dismantled, with their redundant crews left abandoned and devastated. In professional and social terms they suffered the equivalent of a nuclear offensive, effectively removing all UK trawling fleet efforts, and jobs. To the dedicated workforce of British fishermen, such a catastrophe was beyond belief or comprehension. It was comparable to a failure in the Nations’ infrastructure: Postmen without mail, or Transport without vehicles. Government took the media flak and the blame, resulting in hundreds of millions in fiscal contributions, ultimately going towards funding flawed fishery restructuring projects. However, the corporate employed British fishermen, with enviable records of industrial relations, and whose families bore the hardship and heartache from harvesting the seas, got nothing.

     As self-starting individualists, this once-mighty workforce of seafarers simply disintegrated and spread around the world to find work, anywhere where their fishery or nautical expertise could be marketed. Similar to natural disasters – from chaos comes order – some survived and developed, to become notably successful in commercial circles. A large number remained in a state of shock, continuing to pursue dead-end careers and be exploited by cold-hearted employers, as they had become accustomed to over the generations. Many of the victims and casualties of the Icelandic fiasco, as it ultimately proved to be, were approaching retirement age and clearly unattractive to employers, despite considerable talent and expertise in their field. For this sector of former fishermen, the aftermath of the Cod Wars, a period of commercial retrenchment and restructuring, proved to be a study in social exclusion and deprivation, unparalleled in modern times.

     With the formation of the British Fishermen’s Association in 1982, the efforts and struggle for social inclusion and Justice for Fishermen continued with renewed vigour and growing support. Finally, it took a Labour administration, after 18 years of Conservative rule, to recognise and overturn the grave injustices suffered by all UK fishermen in the corporate sector. In July 2000, New Labour said publicly that they recognised and acknowledged the claims of fishermen were indeed justified, and announced a Compensation Scheme to be implemented in October 2000. However, the eventual Scheme has been only partially successful, and ironically, tended to distort and suppress the initial largesse and intentions of New Labour. With the Scheme creating anomalies and obstacles, events have turned out to be something of an administrative nightmare for officials, despite their industrious efforts to process the claims efficiently.


August 2007 - See also the National Audit Office Report, here

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