Brexit Leak: UK Fishermen May Not Win Waters Back

This article was published prior to the publication of the post-Brexit agreement between the UK and EU which covers the relationship between the UK and EU following the end of the implementation period (commonly referred to as the “transition period”) created by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, and should be read in that context. For up-to-date commentary and information on our services, please see our Beyond Brexit page.

A leaked memo from the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries looks set to dash the hopes that British fishermen will “win our waters back” as part of Brexit negotiations. This document, as discovered by British newspaper the Guardian, suggests MEPs have drafted seven provisions to be included in Britain’s “exit agreement”, including a stipulation that there will be “no increase to the UK’s share of fishing opportunities for jointly fished stocks”, and instead the existing quota distribution in UK and EU waters will be maintained. The memo also states that “it is difficult to see any alternative to the continued application of the common fisheries policy”.

The UK’s fishing industry was among the most vocal critics of the EU during the referendum, fuelled by frustration over controls on fishing quotas, which they blame on implementations such as the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) (mentioned in the memo). The Committee is apparently insistent that the granting of access to the EU domestic market to the UK post-Brexit should be conditional on the UK continuing to respect the rights and obligations in the CFP. In another move that will likely frustrate many in the fishing UK industry, the MEPs are apparently insistent that EU vessel owners should continue to be allowed to manage boats under the UK flag.

As we reported back in December, negotiations over fisheries in the UK look set to be fraught and far from straightforward. The House of Lords has already given an indication from its own subcommittee that fisheries may be first in line in terms of bargaining as part of a larger negotiation strategy and this latest leak appears to confirm this.

It has been suggested that this in part may be due to the size of the industry itself - although they are a very vocal industry, there are reportedly only 11,000 fishermen directly employed in the UK. The contribution of the marine industry to the economy is a small fraction of total GDP - estimated at £3.5bn. It is therefore little surprise to some that parts of the marine industry (including fisheries) are likely to be sacrificed early on as part of wider EU negotiations.

The Brexit negotiations have yet to begin in earnest and we will be providing detailed updates as to how they are likely to affect the marine industry as a whole. 

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