An Industry Expects: Scrutiny of the Fisheries Bill

Several issues regarding UK’s fishing industry have made headline news in recent weeks, as we move ever closer towards Brexit. On 28th February, George Eustice, who had been Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture, resigned, stating that a no-deal Brexit should remain a negotiating option to give us a better bargaining position with the EU. Mr Eustice had been a strong campaigner for Brexit in the run-up to the Referendum. This was to be  expected, considering he was Government representative for both Agriculture and Fisheries, two industries that were overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU.

The Fishing industry in particular had been long-unhappy with EU Regulations and legislation such as the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which imposes restrictions on catch limits and allows shared access of UK waters to other Member States. Now, with the UK set to leave the EU in a few weeks and with the Fisheries Bill set to become law later this year, an opportunity is seen by the industry to right some longstanding wrongs.

However, many in the industry also feel that the fishing industry will be subject to heavy concessions in the negotiations. For example, it is now widely expected that we will continue to allow EU Member States to continue fishing in UK waters after we have left.

The Fisheries Bill anticipates a post-Brexit vision for fishing, where the UK “will become an independent coastal state […] will control access to fish in its waters, both in territorial seas and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).” However, it is also clear it fully intends to keep the objectives of the CFP, namely: the sustainability objective, the precautionary objective, the ecosystem objective and the discards objective. Implementation of the Bill will involve the Government drafting its own Joint Fisheries Statement and Secretary of State’s Fisheries Statement, which looks set to retain the spirit of the CFP through our own legislation.

Another well-publicised story in industry circles recently was the publishing of ‘Beyond the Common Fisheries Policy: Scrutiny of the Fisheries Bill’ by Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. The Committee makes several calls to amend the Bill, most notably for a review process and an advisory body to consult with stakeholders. More broadly, there is a call for the Bill to promote greater transparency and fairer catch allocations across the country. Whether Parliament will listen to the Committee at this late stage remains to be seen.

It is a time of great anticipation, as well as anxiety, across the fishing industry, as it waits for the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, along with the rest of the nation. The Fisheries Bill is the first indication of how the UK, as opposed to the EU will govern this industry, although for some the changes are too few and far between.

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