UK fisheries minister: EU departure can benefit seafood

Leaving the EU would ensure greater long-term security for the U.K. fishing industry and allow it to flourish, mainly by giving it a significantly fairer say in quota and fisheries access deals, said U.K. Fisheries Minister George Eustice.

On 23 June, a referendum will take place in the United Kingdom when voters will decide if it remains in the EU or pulls out. While officially, the U.K. Government wants the country to remain a part of the EU, saying that being part of the bloc is in its best interests, Eustice believes Britain's exit – or “Brexit” – would rid the sector of many ineffective constraints handed down by Brussels and also bring improved catch deals in many important fisheries.

Speaking this week at the Shellfish Association of Great Britain (SAGB) 47th Annual Conference in London, the minister confirmed his belief that the United Kingdom should leave the EU, and that from a fishing industry perspective the case for doing so was “overwhelming.”

This is for two main reasons, he said. Firstly, in the North Sea – the country’s most economically important fishery – where despite the United Kingdom being Europe's largest producer of cod, haddock and mackerel, it is entirely reliant upon a EU negotiator at the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) annual coastal states meetings to deliver a good deal with regards to the future fishing opportunities for these stocks.

While Norway, Iceland and the Faroes have seats at the negotiation table, “bizarrely” the United Kingdom, the country with the greatest interest in the North Sea, doesn’t because it’s a member of the EU, said Eustice.

“Leaving the EU would give us a seat at the table and allow us to negotiate our own deals.”

The minister’s second reason to leave is to re-establish national control for 200 nautical miles or the median line as provided for in international law. This would, he said, put the country in a very strong position to address the “deeply unfair issue of relative stability,” and argue for a better share of quota allocations in many fish stocks.  

He cited the Celtic Sea cod fishery where the U.K. allocation was just 800 metric tons (MT) compared to 5,500 MT for France.

“That can’t be fair. Does it also make sense that in the Eastern Channel, France is allowed to catch three times as much sole as U.K. fishermen? There is a real problem here.

“If we were to leave the European Union, what would happen? The basic [conservation and management] principle is set down in the UN Law of the Sea Convention. We would have national control between 12 and 200 nautical miles, and after that all of the current TAC (total allowable catch) allocations would be put on the table, and we could also put access rights back on table too.”

There would be some issues relating to historic access fishing rights, but the “crucial thing” would be the control out to 200 nautical miles, said Eustice.

However, certain policies would remain in place, SAGB conference delegates were told.

“If we left the EU, there are things we would definitely change about fisheries policy, and some things that we wouldn’t. We would still be targeting MSY (maximum sustainable yield), we would still be trying to end the wasteful practice of discarding, and we would still participate in international negotiations.

“Access would be back on the table, but we would still need access to other waters too.”

The minister acknowledged there were concerns relating to whether the Landing Obligation or “discard ban” could be properly implemented in certain complex fisheries, particularly in the North Sea, but said he believed there were sufficient flexibility and tools within the policy to make it work.

“The Landing Obligation is one thing that we would keep, because in principle it is the right thing to do,” he said. “The U.K. was behind the discard ban and we will keep trying to deliver on that. That is the right approach for Britain.

“If we still have problems with its implementation at the end of 2019 then we will look at other ways of making it work.”


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