A new fishing agreement with Norway that works for us

A new fishing agreement with Norway that works for us

by Neil Stratton
article from Tuesday 23, June, 2020

THE PREVIOUS three articles in this series looked at the EU’s fisheries agreement with Norway. The first two of these totted up who caught how much of what and where, whilst the third argued, on the basis of the first two, that what the agreement really is is a barter deal to swap EU Mackerel for Norwegian Cod.  

To phrase things in slightly exaggerated  terms, it is a barter deal that swaps UK, and Scottish in particular, Mackerel for Norwegian Cod to be caught by French and German fishermen. All fine and dandy if you are Norwegian, French or German but what’s in it for the Brits? As the UK leaves the CFP should it not also take a close look at the EU’s agreement with Norway and consider whether it is in its interest to sign its own agreement with Norway and, if so, what it might offer and what it might seek in return?

As a first step let us take a detailed look at how the current agreement between the EU and Norway, which is, in value terms, a roughly balanced one, divvies up the spoils once two becomes three, i.e. Norway, the EU27 and the UK, rather than Norway and the EU. Table 1 summarizes the tonnages and value of fish landed by Norway from the UK and EU27 EEZs and by the UK and EU27 fleets from the Norwegian EEZ using the same methodology as the previous three articles. The cells for UK and EU27landings from each-others’ EEZs are blanked out because the focus here is on the deal with Norway, not the situation between the UK and the EU27.

Table 1

What the figures in the box in Table 1 show is that on average, between 2010 and 2016, Norway landed fish worth £105.8 million more from the UK EEZ than the UK landed from the Norwegian EEZ, whereas it landed fish worth £109.8 million less from the EU27 EEZ than the EU27 landed from the Norwegian EEZ. In terms of tonnage Norway landed 191.3 million tonnes more from the UK EEZ than the UK landed from the Norwegian EEZ but 20.7 million tonnes fewer from the EU27 EEZ than the EU27 fleet landed from the Norwegian EEZ. 

How has it come about that Norway caught 69.4% by weight (87.5% by value) of the fish it landed from EU waters in the UK EEZ yet the UK only accounted for 18.7% by weight (19.1% by value) of the fish landed by the EU from the Norwegian EEZ? It is because the EU and Norway agree tonnages of specified fish species that each may catch in the others’ waters but the Norwegian boats are then left to decide where within the EU EEZ to actually fish; whilst the EU divides up the EU allocation in Norwegian waters between the fleets of its member states. The Norwegians chose to catch the bulk of their fish from the UK EEZ; the EU chose to allocate the bulk of the fishing opportunities to fleets other than the UK’s.

Once the UK leaves the EU, why should it continue to be party to such an unequal arrangement? Taking the figures presented by Table 1 as a basis to work from, Norway was happy to sign an agreement with the EU that saw EU boats land an annual average of 143.6 kt of fish worth £159.8 million from its EEZ in return for it landing 314.2 kt of fish worth £155.8 million from the EU EEZ.

(Norway predominantly landed lower value fish than the EU, hence the discrepancy in terms of tonnage). In financial terms the deal is a balanced one. It is not dependent on any other agreement in some other area to offer the two parties equal benefits. So, for example, Norway is not offering the EU fishing rights in exchange for market access. It receives its benefits in the form of reciprocal fishing rights—rights it has chosen to exercise, in the main, in the UK EEZ and rights the EU will no longer be able to grant following the departure of the UK from the EU. The UK, however, could offer such rights—if it chose to.

Suppose, for example, the UK were to propose to Norway that the two should come to some form of bilateral agreement whereby if Norway wanted to continue to catch the 218.1 kt of fish from the UK EEZ it averaged between 2010 and 2016 worth £136.4 million it should allow the UK to catch an additional £105.8 million worth of fish from the Norwegian EEZ. The deal between the UK and Norway would then be a balanced one. However, in granting the UK additional fishing opportunities, Norway itself would have received none and, unless it reduced the opportunities it granted the EU27, Norway would be out of pocket. Whether Norway actually did reduce fishing opportunities to EU27 boats in the Norwegian EEZ to match the tonnages or value of fish Norwegian boats land from the EU27 would be a matter for the EU27 and Norway to negotiate, since the UK would no longer be a party to such an agreement. 

Nevertheless, although not a party to an agreement between Norway and the EU27, we should bear in mind that a move by Norway to reduce fishing opportunities for EU27 boats in the Norwegian EEZ to compensate for the increased opportunities for UK boats is not one the EU27 is likely to welcome. It might seek to pressure Norway to maintain existing opportunities for EU27 boats and to refuse requests from the UK for increased opportunities; just as it is seeking to pressure the UK into maintaining current levels of access for EU27 boats to the UK EEZ. The UK’s departure from the EU poses a threat to fishing opportunities enjoyed by EU27 fleets not just in the UK EEZ but in the Norwegian EEZ too.

Whilst the current agreement between Norway and the EU is balanced in terms of value and a future one between the UK and Norway might be; the reciprocal quotas negotiated within the framework of such agreements are actually specified in terms of tonnage, with the value being the product of the tonnes landed or allocated multiplied by the relevant market price at the time of landing and first sale. Since tonnages are set in advance of sale and market prices fluctuate it is impossible to say precisely what the value of future allocations will be, although it is possible to make informed estimates on the basis of current prices.

In this series of articles, an artificial reference price – UK 2018 first sale prices – is being used as a common basis for comparison. Using these prices as a basis, and with the caveat outlined in the previous paragraph that we are essentially working the wrong way round, how many tonnes might the UK’s extra £105.8 million worth of fish buy it? Table 2 is a shopping list that comes to around £105 million that is based on the quantities of some of the Top Ten species the EU27landed from the Norwegian EEZ between 2010 and 2016. Since these are species and quantities Norway agreed to the EU catching under its current agreement, it would not be case of breaking new ground if the UK took these opportunities over. The only thing that would change would be the recipient of the benefit.

Table 2.

As well as a shopping list of additional fish to be landed from the Norwegian EEZ, Table 2 shows how UK landings for the species in question might change as a result of a redistribution between the UK and EU27 based on resource share, current UK landings and, finally, the resulting potential UK landings for these species. In the case of Cod and Plaice, the additional tonnage from the Norwegian EEZ is substantially greater than might accrue from a redistribution between the UK and EU27 and, in the case of Cod, it represents roughly 58% of potential UK landings. Conversely, for the other species in the list it is the redistribution between the UK and the EU27 that offers the greater potential gain. 

However, the shopping list shown in Table 2 is not the only combination of species and tonnages worth around £105 million that Norway has been happy to trade in the past that could be drawn up. It would, for example, have been possible to draw one up that included the quantities of Herring caught by the EU27 in Norwegian waters (48.6 kt). Herring was excluded from Table 2 because if future fishing opportunities in the UK and EU27 EEZs are adjusted to ensure they match resource share, UK Herring landings would rise by some 200 kt. Would the UK need a further 50 kt of Herring or would the enhanced opportunities resulting from receiving a fair share of UK and EU27 resources mean it would be better to focus on securing opportunities for species where the current and potential UK positions are more limited?

The reader is invited to refer back to the tables in the previous articles and draw up his or her own personal shopping list of what the UK might ask for from Norway that Norway currently allows the EU27 to land.

Of course, and now comes the painful part, every shopping list has to be paid for and Table 3 presents the bill. However, in this case, it’s a bill we’ve already long been paying. It’s the fish the Norwegians have been landings from the UK EEZ in exchange for EU fishing rights in Norwegian waters. We might continue to pay this in exchange for increased opportunities for UK fishermen going forward—as outlined in Table 2 or some other similar or alternative shopping list. Alternatively, the UK might decide that the additional opportunities as outlined in Table 2 et al. are not that mouth-watering, and that the more attractive option would be to close the UK EEZ to Norwegian boats and to land the fish Norwegian boats have been landing from the UK EEZ ourselves. If we took that route, Table 3 ceases to be a bill and becomes additional opportunities for the UK—although it would mean forgoing the opportunities outlined in Table 2.

Table 3.


As with Table 2, it is possible to draw up various different combinations of tonnages and species that are worth £105 million. Ultimately, the UK and Norway will need to decide if there is a combination of opportunities they would each like to secure and others they would be prepared to throw into the pot that are attractive enough for the two parties to want to sign an agreement for future fishing opportunities. The tonnages of the various species that they wished to allocate to each other might or might be similar to the ones presented in Tables 12 and 3, which are based on the situation between 2010 and 2016. The figures in these tables are not therefore firm forecasts but indicators of how things might change. 

This and the preceding articles have focused on the agreement with Norway but there is also an EU agreement with the Faroe Islands that is similar in principle though different in detail. Potentially, there is also one with Iceland, although the EU one with Iceland is currently suspended. The same general considerations outlined in this and the preceding articles would apply to these agreements, although they would differ in detail.

Given that future TACs and landings may differ from those between 2010 and 2016, Table 4 repeats Table 1 but instead of absolute tonnages and values it calculates the percentage shares of tonnage and value landed by the UK and EU27 from the Norwegian EEZ and by the Norwegian fleet from the UK and EU27 EEZs.

Table 4: [Un]fair Shares for All

The figures in the box are percentage point differences between the share the Norwegian fleet landed from either the UK or the EU27 EEZ and the share of total EU landings from the Norwegian EEZ landed by the UK or the EU27 fleets. If the Norwegian fleet was landing the same share from the UK or EU27 EEZ as the corresponding fleet was from the Norwegian EEZ that figure would be zero. The alert reader will notice that is not. In fact it is very far from zero whether you look at value or tonnage. 

Aside from providing a measure that is independent of absolute values of how fair or unfair past arrangements have been—how far the figures in the box in Table 4 diverge from zero—this metric could be used in future as a way of checking whether any future tripartite agreement between the UK, the EU27 and Norway was delivering fair shares for all—of which more in the next article. 

After a first degree in zoology followed by research in developmental genetics, Neil Stratton worked for a number of European publishers before beginning an analysis of European fish landings with the think tank EH99 in the spring of 2018. The recently published report Fair Shares for All is based on this analysis.

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