ONE of the enduring images of the Brexit referendum campaign is that of self-appointed Leaver-in-chief Nigel Farage leading a flotilla of boats down the Thames into the waiting arms of Remain activist and one-time Boomtown Rat Bob Geldof. Though the scene descended into farce as the two sides clashed over the impending vote, the fishermen who had accompanied the then Ukip leader were there to highlight a serious point: the need, as they saw it, for the UK to “take back control of our waters”.

As expected, the fishing industry voted overwhelmingly in support of the UK’s withdrawal from Europe, enthused by the prospect of finally being able to extricate itself from the hated Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Having grown up in the north-east of Scotland and witnessed the decline of once-thriving fishing towns like Fraserburgh and Peterhead, it was easy to understand why. Designed to safeguard the sustainability of the seas, the CFP necessarily restricted the size of the catch local vessels could bring in, with the number of fishermen working on Scottish boats halving between the 1970s and the late 2000s as a result. The north-east, which accounts for around a quarter of the total Scottish workforce, bore the brunt of that decline, with Fraserburgh seeing numbers fall by 54 per cent while in Peterhead they dropped by 42 per cent.

The damage this has wreaked on the local economy has been immense, with high streets that in the 1980s were filled with bustling shops and chintzy cafes all but dead while the windows of countless private residences, once resplendent with Royal Doulton figurines, have been boarded up. With heroin addiction continuing to claim the lives of too many youngsters who at one time would have been destined for a life at sea, wouldn’t you too have voted to break away from the remote political institution whose desk-bound bureaucrats had caused all those ills?

The problem is that holding the EU –and the CFP in particular – responsible for all the problems that have befallen such communities ignores the influence of way too many other factors. Such as the fact that the licences required to operate within the rules of the CFP have been allocated by the UK and Scottish governments in such a way that large super-trawlers have been able to flourish at the expense of the smaller-scale fishermen who were once the mainstay of the fishing industry. Indeed, while there are more than 2,000 vessels licensed to fish in Scotland, in 2016 two-thirds of the catch by weight was landed by just 19 super-trawlers.

Or the fact that the heroin epidemic that has rendered so many in the north-east incapable of following their forbears out to sea sprang up due to an abundance, rather than lack of, wealth. Though fishermen had long been known for their hard-drinking ways when back on shore, the nineties generation began dabbling in narcotics, spending their hard-earned but plentiful cash on party drugs before making the inevitable move on to heroin and addiction.

And yet, as has become abundantly clear in recent weeks, while the CFP alone is not the cause of all the fishing industry’s ills, neither will quitting the EU be the remedy, with Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement all but spelling out that fishing rights will be up for grabs as part of EU-UK trade negotiations. This should come as no surprise given that Norway, which allows EU boats to fish in its waters in return for market access, has long been held up as the fishing nation the UK should seek to emulate, but it’s not what the Leave campaign led the fishing industry to believe.

On top of that, while “taking back control of our waters” will inevitably turn out to mean continuing to share control of our waters, Scottish business relationships that have built up because Norway stayed out of the single market will also suffer. Indeed, as Norway pays higher tariffs for processed products than it does for whole fish it sends much of its catch to Scotland, Denmark and Poland to be processed before the finished products make their way tariff-free into the EU. With UK-EU tariffs likely to be imposed it is hard to imagine those Scottish interests surviving the Brexit process, with scores of jobs being lost as a result.

It is certainly true that the overly centralised CFP has led to many problems, with absurd amounts of waste being caused by quota-bound fisherman throwing tonnes of dead fish back into the water each year rather than breach the Brussels-set rules. And, yes, the voices of fishermen whose intimate knowledge of the seas has been passed down from generation to generation have been ignored in favour of a one-size-fits-all bureaucratic approach. But as things stand, the best our fishermen can hope for is a continuation of much of what the CFP provides for without the UK ever having a hope of being able to change it.

As happened in so many other areas during the Brexit campaign, our fishing communities were sold a lie by the likes of Mr Farage. Having had their deeply held frustrations and fears exploited, surely they now deserve the right for an informed say. People’s Vote anyone?