UK fishing leaders: Brexit could put UK fisheries among world’s elite

Published on
June 21, 2017
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With official negotiations for the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union very much in their early infancy and discussions on fisheries not yet on the agenda, fishing sector leaders this week underlined the potential golden age that could result from a good Brexit deal.  

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), told delegates at the high-level seminar, “Priorities for U.K. fisheries policy – sustainability, trade, access and funding,” organized in London by Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum, that the current regime that allows E.U. vessels access to U.K. waters and vice-versa had proved far more lucrative to E.U. fleets than it had for U.K. fishermen.

This “asymmetrical access” has resulted in GBP 400 million (USD 504.7 million, EUR 452.9 million) worth of fish being caught annually by E.U. fishermen in U.K. waters, compared to GBP 100 million (USD 126.2 million, EUR 113.3 million) worth caught by the U.K. fleet in E.U. waters, and the imbalance should be a “fundamental driver” of the fisheries negotiations, according to Deas.

“There is commitment from U.K. ministers that there will be a new deal on quotas and there needs to be," Deas said. "If you look at Channel cod, the U.K.’s share is 9 percent and the French share is 84 percent. That is what needs to change.” 

Deas said the “red lines” that the U.K. fishing industry wants from Brexit include:

  • For the United Kingdom to become an independent coastal state
  • A new deal on quota shares to reflect the resources that are in U.K. waters
  • An exclusive 12-mile zone to protect inshore fisheries and negotiated access to the U.K. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) outside the 12-mile zone on terms set by the United Kingdom
  • As free a flow (minimum impediments) as possible in trade between the United Kingdom and the EU

“Leaving the E.U. is going to be a complex process and we probably won’t know all the consequences for many years or even decades, but from day one fishing is going to be different because the decisions on quota shares and access will not be made by the E.U. Council of Ministers or the European Parliament,” said Deas, who added that when it comes to international negotiations he believed that the United Kingdom had ”a strong hand to play.”

“There is momentum, there is political strength going into [Brexit] negotiations; we hope it’s a new dawn,” he said.

Also speaking at the seminar, Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), stressed that putting aside all the pluses and minuses of E.U. membership, the E.U. Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) had been “plain wrong” for the U.K. fishing industry.

“Leaving the CFP now makes it possible for us to become a world contender,” he said.

As well as taking the shackles off catching sectors that “have only been working at about half throttle because of the constraints of the past,” Armstrong also stressed that the U.K. EEZ has some of the richest fishing grounds in Europe, which is why E.U. fleets have focused so much effort in these areas.

“If we control access, it will not be possible for other nations to shrug their shoulders and continue fishing in those waters. The only alternative they would have is illegality, and illegality we can cope with," Armstrong said. "We have one hell of a hand of cards in these negotiations. It’s a bit of a cliché, but have a sea of opportunity – the opportunity to double our landings of sustainable raw material. Our EEZ is the best piece of real estate when it comes to the catching of fish and under international law it is ours."

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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