News-Scallops

The UK economy grew by just over one half of one percent in the last quarter.

Great news! The double dip recession has ended! The Office for National Statistics has announced the UK economy grew by just over one half of one percent in the last quarter – largely due to a Scallop War in the English Channel. HM Treasury likes scallops – £70 million pounds’ worth of which are dredged by plucky British trawlermen each year from the English Channel and exported to Paris. But French scallophounds are now bombarding British boats with garlic and onions to drive them away from the French side of the English Channel (or ‘La Manche’ as they sniffily call it).

This is of course highly illegal – not that the French care. The Daily Mail has called on the Royal Navy to protect our brave boys but the Admiralty isn’t keen as they remember being seen-off by two Icelandic rowing boats in the 1972 Cod War.

But it’s not as simple as that – the EU is involved. Brixham has a swanky new £20 million fish market, part-funded by the EU, which needs the business and the EU controls the number of days all scallop boats can fish. Although the French scallop quota is twice the size of the British they only use a quarter of it so French restaurants can’t get enough scallops without importing them from the UK. Our hardworking trawlermen generously offered to stay on the English side of the channel if the EU gave them a bit of the unused French quota but ‘Merde alors: Francois eez not very ‘appy.’ He and his friends are now threatening to blockade Calais to stop the Cross-channel ferries. Now there’s a surprise.

And that, in a scallop shell, is the problem all politicians struggle with: Just how far should Governments intervene in a so-called free market economy? Should they sit back and let things take their natural course, or intervene for the greater good of all?

Their 200-mile ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ supports a sustainable fishery some forty years on.

The Icelandic government got their intervention right and their 200-mile ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ supports a sustainable fishery some forty years on. Newfoundland got it wrong and let their once-thriving Grand Banks fishery be overexploited, so it collapsed. British Columbia got it right and took control of their fisheries after years of over-exploitation and built it back into a thriving recreational fishing industry. So, should HM Government be intervening in the scallop industry, or staying out like they’ve done with retailing? And is now the time to reign-in the spread of supermarkets and preserve our Town centres? Fat hope.

I have a lot of respect for the Adam Smith Institute – the independent think tank which promotes free market policies, but not much for Tim Worstall, one of their leading economists. Last month he had a dig at activists who lead campaigns to protect Town centres from supermarkets and accused them of wrongly wrapping themselves in the flag of liberalism to preserve freedom of choice for consumers. He suggested campaigning against a supermarket is nothing of the sort. It is authoritarian – imposing your theory of how society should be on those who don’t agree. Well, that’s a fine academic debating point Tim old boy, but divorced from reality. Ever heard of expressing local democracy? I don’t know what colour the sky is on your planet, but it’s not the same on mine.

The price of food in the UK – scallops included – is cheaper than ever in real terms thanks to government policy which keeps prices down.

Whether its scallops or supermarkets there is only one certainty when a government intervenes – there will be winners and losers. The price of food in the UK – scallops included – is cheaper than ever in real terms thanks to government policy which keeps prices down. Policies which inflate food prices are an electoral suicide note.

The number of independent producers and dairy farmers is a fraction of what it was only twenty years ago thanks to so-called retail consolidation…

…and although Icelandic cod may now be expensive, salmon is as cheap as chips thanks to fish farming. The cost is all the disease it’s introduced to wild stocks which has polished-off recreational fishing on many Scottish rivers.

In British Columbia federal intervention worked but they didn’t have Europe interfering. EU grants are still available for traditional employments like estuary netting but the netsmen then have to be bought-out by riverbank owners keen to preserve dwindling stocks. Trying to get owners to agree a catch policy is like trying to herd cats – and whilst cormorants continue to love salmon rivers like Herons love goldfish ponds no politician is going to take on the RSPB.

Winners and losers? – it’s all about politics. It’s time to take a leaf out of the book of those Icelanders and send in the Royal Navy. Scallops clearly have the potential to lead the UK out of recession.

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