There’s no solid evidence to support this Brexit Party MEP’s claim about fishermen’s nets

25 July 2019
What was claimed

The EU has decided to increase the size of fisherman’s meshes.

Our verdict

EU regulation has changed and there is now a minimum mesh size in certain areas. That came in place on 1 July 2019.

What was claimed

That change to mesh sizes has reduced fishermen’s income by 40%.

Our verdict

That is based on an unsourced quote reported by a Cornish news website. We don’t know how or if income has been affected yet as the regulation only changed on 1 July 2019.

Ann Widdecombe, a Brexit Party MEP, made the following claim during her maiden speech in the European Parliament.

“The powers that be have decided to actually increase the size of fishermen’s meshes thereby reducing their income by 40%.”

Ann Widdecombe, 4 July 2019

The EU Commission has changed some fishing regulations, which came into force on 1 July 2019, which does include introducing a minimum size of fishing mesh in certain areas. The claim that this will reduce fishermen’s incomes by 40% is based on a quote from an unknown source on a Cornish local news website.

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There’s no credible source for the 40% figure

We asked the Brexit Party where the 40% figure came from and it directed us to an article about a visit MEPs Ann Widdecombe and Christina Jordan made in June to Newlyn, a fishing town in Cornwall.

The article said: “A pressing concern from the quayside is a new directive from the EU to do with net mesh sizes, intended to protect the cod stock but will in fact stop our fishermen catching squid too and some claimed it could lose up to 40% of their income from just this one ruling.”

No further background is given about the claim and we can’t find evidence of it anywhere else. The news outlet confirmed to us that a fisherman told them the figure during Ann Widdecombe’s visit, but they were unable to provide any further details.

What is fishermen’s mesh?

The mesh is the space between four pieces of crossing twine in a fisherman’s net. The mesh size is the “maximum possible opening between two opposite knots” when the mesh is stretched out. The minimum mesh size is regulated—the larger the mesh the easier it is for small fish to escape nets undamaged. Of course, this size depends on what species fishermen are trying to catch.

A 2014 briefing from the European Parliament’s own research service called the rules on mesh sizes and fishing equipment “a complex set of EU regulations”.

A minimum mesh size was introduced in some areas from 1 July

EU regulation has recently changed in this area, and the legislation was adopted by the European Commission at the end of 2018.

The regulation was changed using something called a ‘delegated act’. This is where the Commission can adopt new laws without the vote of the European Parliament or Council.

The Commission’s power to adopt delegated acts are subject to limits. The European Parliament and Council have to authorise the Commission to adopt delegated acts in the first place, and delegated acts cannot change essential elements of the law.

The European Parliament and Council had two months to object to the delegated act on fishing regulations, but this didn’t happen so it is now law. It’s also now in UK law.

The UK was one of the EU member states that developed and submitted recommendations on the new act to the Commission.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) which is the England and Wales marine activities regulator, told us that the changes to mesh sizes came into force for the Celtic Sea on 1 July 2019. It added that the changes for the Celtic Sea in particular were “designed to reduce unwanted catches of cod and haddock primarily”.

The MMO added that it was “aware of the implications of these new measures for small scale fisheries such as those targeting squid seasonally and are working with the fishing industry and [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] to find solutions, whilst still ensuring the measures achieve their objectives”.

The MMO also wrote about the new rules on its website. It said part of the change is that “larger regional baseline mesh sizes will be introduced” but that “smaller mesh sizes for certain fisheries are allowed”. These are minimum sizes so fishermen could use larger mesh if they want to.

The MMO says that most minimum sizes of fish and areas where fishing is restricted remain the same.

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