Access to EU markets is essential for UK’s post-Brexit fishing industry, warns report

Published on
December 19, 2016

In order for the U.K. fishing industry to prosper it will need continued access to EU markets once the country leaves the union, according to a new report issued by the House of Lords' EU Energy and the Environment Sub-Committee, which also warns that fishing communities are at risk of being marginalized in the wider Brexit negotiations.

Employing 11,845 people and contributing GBP 426 million (USD 527.6 million, EUR 505.8 million) to the economy in 2014, the U.K. fishing industry represents less than 0.5 percent of the country’s GDP, yet it is of “great importance” to many coastal communities, said the committee. It added that successful fisheries management was also vital to the health of the wider marine environment.

In withdrawing from the EU, the United Kingdom will withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and become an independent coastal state under international law. The committee concluded that the United Kingdom would be able to control the access that foreign vessels have to fishing in U.K. waters and to renegotiate the country’s share of total allowable catches (TACs) for fish stocks that are shared with other countries, including the EU.

But it also cautioned that commercial fish stocks shared with other states risk over-exploitation on either side of political borders and concluded that the U.K. government must pursue new, co-operative relations with the EU and other European neighbors to manage these shared fish.

The committee further concluded that the government could come under pressure to balance new quota shares and access arrangements against access to the single market.

“Fisheries also have an important trade angle. The majority of fish caught by U.K. fleets are exported – mostly to EU member states. A successful catching industry therefore needs continued market access,” stated the report. “The majority of fish consumed in the United Kingdom are imported. Continued access to free or preferential trade in fish and seafood will therefore be crucial for the seafood industry and U.K. consumers. In approaching the wider Brexit negotiations, the government must seek to preserve the United Kingdom’s access to low-tariff exports and imports in fish.”

Fisheries policy is a complex area and untangling U.K. fisheries from the EU will be challenging and require political will and resources both in the wider Brexit negotiations and beyond, said the committee.

From the day of withdrawal from the EU, the United Kingdom will need to have arrangements in place with the EU and third-countries with which the EU has fisheries agreements, so that shared stocks can be managed, access arrangements for U.K. vessels fishing outside U.K. waters can be negotiated to the mutual satisfaction of the parties, and trade in fish products can continue, it said.

“Many in the fishing industry were vocal in their support of Brexit and have declared the vote to leave a great opportunity for the sector. Notwithstanding the comparatively small contribution of fisheries to the U.K. economy, the voices of the industry, the coastal communities that support and thrive on the industry and its supply chains must be heard in the wider Brexit negotiations,” said the report.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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