Brexit changes everything! Fisheries management is coming home!

Brexit changes everything! Fisheries management is coming home!

by Ian Duncan MEP
article from Thursday 22, December, 2016

THE ANNUAL bun fight that is the EU Fisheries Council wrapped up in Brussels in the wee small hours last week. On the whole it is a good deal for Scotland, with Prawn fishermen the big winners, securing a near 50% lift in their quota. The Haddock of the West of Scotland and Rockall quotas were also uplifted by almost 50%; Monkfish by 20%. Last month the EU-Norway negotiations (since the North Sea is shared between these two powers) also saw quota rises for Cod, Saithe, Whiting and Herring. Pretty much good news all round. 

Back when I worked for the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation in the early 2000s, it was anything but good news. Then it was all about vessel decommissioning, limits to days at sea, the closure of fishing grounds and savage quota cuts. The positive results are a reminder of the sacrifice and the toil of the Scottish fishing industry over almost two decades.  

Something else struck me as I contemplated the results of the Fisheries Council: this is one of the last times Scottish fishermen will learn their fate from bleary-eyed politicians emerging from an all-nighter deep in the bowels of Brussels. Brexit changes everything.

The December Fisheries Council, once the UK has left the building, will be done and dusted by tea-time.  

Have a look at the map of EU waters (red + blue). At present the EU manages the waters to the west of Scotland far beyond the fish rich Rockall Bank, off the toe of Cornwall far into the Atlantic and across the Irish Sea. Post-Brexit the EU waters will basically hug the coast of the southern North Sea, the eastern seaboard of Ireland and the abyssal deeps to the west. The richest fishing grounds in Europe will be outside the control of the EU. 

So what does it mean? 

UK-Norway negotiations 

Well, first of all, the big negotiation for Scotland (and the UK) will be with Norway, since we share the richest fishing grounds. The EU will be but observers. The negotiations should be led by a Scottish minister. We will still rely upon the science provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, but when it comes to determining how our stocks are managed, and the rules that must be observed by those who would wish to fish in our waters, then that will be determined, for the first time in a generation by us. 

UK-EU negotiations 

When it comes to the waters we share with the EU then there will be for the first time an opportunity to negotiate from strength. A recent report by the North Atlantic Fisheries College in Shetland indicated that EU vessels currently catch almost 65% of their catch in our waters, If that doesn't give strength to our arm in negotiations, then I don’t know what could. 

In from the cold 

We also have an opportunity to do things differently. So let’s bring fishermen into the room where their futures are being decided rather than banish them to the lobby. Fishermen would bring vital experience and knowledge to any discussion. Let’s draw upon this vital resource.

More fish anyone? 

At present the allocation of the share of the catch (quota) is allocated upon an historical benchmark now almost forty years old. At the time, for example, British vessels didn’t catch Hake, because there wasn’t Hake to be caught in our waters. Today there is but our quota share is derisory. We need to look again at what is know in the jargon as the ‘relative stability key’ – the formula of allocation – and make sure it is fit for purpose. I know fishermen in the English Channel for example have been disappointed for decades by their share of the Cod quota (only 9.3 per cent). With Brexit we will have an opportunity to re-settle the share of the catch. 

Off to market 

The challenge for UK fishermen is that we may have the richest fishing grounds but we are not a fish-eating nation (even allow for the odd fish supper). It is our continental neighbours who eat our Crab and Lobster, Mackerel and Herring, Prawns and Plaice. Access to the market is vital. Falling back on to WTO rules would add tariffs to our fish and fish products and that just won’t do. The negotiations on this matter will not be easy. I am sure there will be threats and eurocrats throwing their fish out of the pram, but we have a strength in these talks granted us by the fact that the fish are in our waters. Without the right deal, the fishing fleets of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the North Sea fleet of France will be tied to the harbour wall. So it is in everyone’s interest to get this right. 

There will be tough times ahead, of that there is no doubt. And uncertainty is no friend of investment. Nonetheless in short order the fishing fleets of the UK will be free of the pernicious Common Fisheries Policy. Fisheries management is coming home!

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