Fishermen fear Theresa May could waive the rights to almost 95 per cent of British waters after failing to make any solid promises over sovereignty of the seas in the Tory manifesto.
A desire to take back control of Britain’s waters was a constant theme for Leave campaigners ahead of last year’s EU referendum.
They believe Britain has legal rights to all fish within 200 miles of the coast, but the manifesto leaves open the possibility that only 12 miles of water will be protected after Brexit.
A report published last October found that more than half the fish caught in British waters are currently landed by trawlers from the rest of the EU.
The Conservative party’s manifesto states the UK “will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control”.
Trawlermen believe that might refer only to the 12-mile zone guaranteed under the 1964 London Fisheries Convention, as the 200-mile zone, agreed under a United Nations convention in 1982, was never implemented because of Britain’s EU membership.
The Conservatives declined to say yesterday how much water would be protected, saying the details would form part of the Brexit negotiations.
The 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was set up by the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, but Britain had already given control of its waters to Brussels by then.
One Tory source admitted the language of the manifesto did “leave open” the possibility that Britain might agree that other EU nations can access these waters after Brexit.
Alan Hastings, a spokesman for the Fishing for Leave campaign, said: “After their dubious manifesto wording, the only way the Conservatives can redeem their position publicly to avoid accusations of a sell-out is to affirm categorically that the UK will take back control of our entire UK EEZ and to exercise sovereign control over all the waters and resources within for the benefit of UK fishermen.”