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Fishing has been the last issue blocking the ratification of the Brexit and is seemingly the primary reason why Iceland and Norway have refused to join the EU. But why is the fishing lobby so powerful? It's not a very profitable industry and not that many people are employed there, so on the surface it would seem that they should lack the resources to lobby the government effectively compared to other industries.

So why is the fishing lobby so powerful?

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    It may be more a cultural/identity thing than a powerful lobby of the industry. It also touches a lot of sovereignty issues - granting "foreigners" access to the natural ressources in "their" waters is something countries want to retain control about.
    – Hulk
    Jan 5, 2021 at 9:52
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    Plus, most western European countries do have significant coastlines they care about, and long traditions negotiating/fighting about who gets to control which area.
    – Hulk
    Jan 5, 2021 at 10:17
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    Norway is somewhat unusual. If not for the oil and gas the main export product before that except fish were electric energy, a assortment of ores, forest products and shipping ie seamen working abroad or norwegian owned or controlled freight ships. Jan 7, 2021 at 17:22
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    In the case of Iceland a rather large part of the work force is employed in fishery. Jan 7, 2021 at 17:32
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    Shorter: because fish can't vote.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 6, 2022 at 21:17

2 Answers 2

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It is really old, heavily romanticised, and provides jobs to areas that don't have other sources of work.

So, coming from Britain, we grew up on stories of the Dunkirk evacuation, where fishing boats bravely ferried soldiers away from the advancing german army. Fishing is a "real man's job" done by "salt of the earth" types. Seafaring for previous generations was how the country survived (the same, certainly, with Norway and Iceland). And, it was super necessary to weave seafaring through all the old stories and culture - All of the countries' wealth involved seafaring (well, colonialism and seafaring, for a bunch of it)

As such, the image of a distraught fisherman, about to lose his one boat, has vastly more power than layoffs from a factory, or closure of some department store. Never mind that the factory or department store employs a hundred people in safe jobs, whereas the fishing boat employs three. It is tangible. It makes good news.

It touches upon sovereignty, and territory. Being forced to allow fishing "in our waters" can be spun to feel like an invasion. Again, it's tangible - you can play footage of fishermen, there might be disputes between rival fishermen that makes good TV, and stirs up patriotic feelings. (See disputes in Gibraltar).

It also, in a relatively soft way, establishes territorial claims - "we have fished these waters for generations" is one of the arguments being used in the South China Sea disputes as evidence for territorial claims (and there's a whole section on fishing incidents, including several people killed by soldiers).

Finally, a lot of old fishing towns do not have a lot of other industry or jobs - So fishing can be a powerful single issue for a constituency or other political area, and the loss of it can be disproportionately devastating. Again, this is tangible - a single cause that can be used to hit a politician. General decline of a town is hard to blame on one person, but screw over the fishing industry? Your opponent's campaign will show images of a devastated town, distraught, three generation fishermen, weeping at the loss of their boat despite their toughness. It's going to be hard to fight.

All this makes fishing a powerful lobby. There's also some useful synergy, often, between strongman right wing figures, tough fishermen, and nationalist policies, even if the most strenuous thing that politician has done recently is lifted a pint at his local pub (see, Farage, fishing boat flotilla, Brexit campaign). The politician gets a tough guy kind of image by association, is shown to have the trust of these simple fishing types, and gets to turn their often esoteric claims about protecting borders or sovereignty into something that actually affects real people (and, importantly, in a way that never mentions race or immigration).

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Perhaps fishing industry was much more important to both these countries when they made that decision, and as its economic importance was waning, it still had the benefits of being entrenched for generations and having more political influence than newcomer industries.

Frame challenge: These countries come from the eurosceptical quadrant of Europe. Between UK's Brexit, Sweden's rejection of the Euro, their approach does not raise eyebrows. Eastern European countries view EU as a solution to their problems, whereas "old Europe" can get most of EU's benefits without additional oversight. All was going well for these countries, so why change what's not broken.

In addition, Iceland basically had a war with UK over fishing, and Norway switched to Oil and Gas, both of which are/were not really conductive to their EU membership.

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