Stormy Seas Ahead for Fishing as UK Leaves EU

Over the past weeks The Orkney News has covered many aspects of how leaving the European Union will affect our Fishing Industry.   The UK joined the Common Fisheries Policy) CFP in 1970 with the conclusion of a deal signed by the then Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath with the seas becoming a shared resource. Before this there had been no CFP. It gave all European fishing fleets equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds. The disastrous impact of the CFP was soon felt in the Scottish fishing industry and despite reforms it has remained deeply unpopular.

Will leaving the EU Change this?

When The UK Leaves the EU and the CFP, as a coastal nation it will still be bound by  The United Nation Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This means that the UK will still have responsibilities on how fish stocks are managed and reaching agreements with other nations on how this is done. It also means that the fishing rights of other nations will require to be taken into account.

 Within their  Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ ) of 200 nautical miles, coastal states have –

  •  the right to exploit, develop, manage and conserve all resources e.g. fish, oil, gas etc.
  • the responsibilities and obligations to prevent and limit pollution and to facilitate marine scientific research.
  • jurisdiction for the protection and preservation of the marine environment.

There are several Articles relevant to our fishing industry which will have particular importance with Brexit.

  • Article 61(1) The coastal State shall determine the allowable catch of the living resources in its EEZ
  • Article 61(2) A coastal state shall take into account the best scientific advice available, and prevent over-exploitation of living resources, via conservation and management measures
  • Article 61(3) conservation and management measures should maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield
  • Article 62(1) The coastal State shall promote the objective of optimum utilization of the living resources in the exclusive economic zone without prejudice to Article 61
  • Article 62(2) Where the coastal State does not have the capacity to harvest the entire allowable catch, it shall, through agreements or other arrangements … give other States access to the surplus of the allowable catch 
  • Article 62(3) requires coastal states to “minimize economic dislocation in States whose nationals have habitually fished in the zone” when giving access to the EEZ
  • Article 63 (1) Provides an obligation to co-operate with other coastal states on the management of shared stocks or stocks of associated species

Leaving the EU and with it the CFP does not mean the UK Fishing Industry can do what it likes. There will be no free for all.  The UNCLOS agreement is international. The UK Fishing Industry will no longer be bound by the CFP but it will require to adhere to UNCLOS.

Article 62(3)

The UK will be required to “minimize economic dislocation in States whose nationals have habitually fished in the zone” when giving access to the EEZ.  For Scotland Fishing is a far more important industry than it is to the rest of the UK  with Scotland having a huge EEZ area compared to that of the rest of the UK.

map of international boundaries

Scotland’s EEZ

Map by Andmoreagain0815 who has created it as a student of the University of Sussex, Brighton

Of all fish and shellfish (worth £592.3 million) landed from the Scottish part of the EEZ –

  • the Scottish fleet lands 41% by weight, which is 56% by value (£334.4 million)
  • the rest of the UK fleet lands 8%, which is 8% by value (£47.7 million)
  • the non-UK EU fleet lands 51% by weight, which is 35% by value (£210.2 million)

Non- UK EU fishing vessels are catching, by weight, greater amounts of fish in Scottish waters than our own industry does.

But it is more complicated than that because there is an interesting little loophole known as ‘quota  hopping‘. This is where non-UK EU members can buy UK fishing vessels and with them their quotas of fish. This is all possible because all EU nationals have the freedom to establish businesses across the EU.

Maybe this makes it a little more understandable why so many in the Scottish Fishing Industry voted to Leave the EU.

But let us return to Article 62(3) of UNCLOS where the UK must “minimize economic dislocation in States whose nationals have habitually fished in the zone”. From the figures you can see that the non UK EU fishing industry has benefitted and has relied upon having free access to UK fishing grounds. If they were now denied access to those grounds the impact on their industry would be significant. This is why Ian Gatt , President of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation was correct when he expressed his fear that the Fishing Industry may be used as a bargaining chip. And why  clarification is needed after Prime Minister Theresa May’s comment concerning Spanish fishermen and their access to the  UK’s EEZ. In the negotiations over Brexit the non-UK EU fishing industry will make claims under UNCLOS Article 62(3) on retaining access to Scotland’s fishing grounds.

Before the CFP of 1970 there was the London Fisheries Convention of 1964. This allows access to the 6-12 mile zone of a coastal state if another state’s fishing fleet has traditionally fished there. In the UK, vessels from France, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium have this access. Article 15 of the London Fisheries Convention states “…any Contracting Party may denounce the Convention by giving two years’ notice in writing…”. This has not happened. It may have been agreed way back in 1964 but unless revoked,  the Articles in the Convention  will still be in place.

Leaving the EU will present opportunities for the Scottish Fishing Industry but it will also not be the bountiful opportunity that has been presented by some avid Leave campaigners. The disastrous Common Fisheries Policy, restrictive quotas and quota hopping explain why so many in Scotland’s fishing communities voted Leave. Will the UK Government handling the Brexit negotiations trade off Scotland’s fishing grounds yet again as they did back in 1970? With only days to go before PM Theresa May triggers Article 50 there is still no plan from the UK Government and no reassurance for what is a vital industry to so many communities in Scotland.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

Further Information

Napier, Ian (2016) Fish Landings from the United Kingdom’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and UK Landings from the European Union’s EEZ. NAFC Marine Centre. University of Highlands and Islands. Available at:


SPICe Briefing: Implication of Leaving the EU – Fisheries

London Fisheries Convention 1964

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4 replies »

  1. Petition Ensure the British fishing waters are returned to the UK post Brexit

    In the 1970s Edward Heath betrayed our fisherman and our coastal communities with the Common Fisheries Policy. A leaked report now shows that the EU wants to retain control over the fish stocks in British waters.
    We call on Parliament to ensure these waters and fish stocks return to Britain
    More details

    Much of the EU referendum was based on the idea of reclaiming the fish stocks in British waters. It became a key aspect of sovereignty. It would be an absolute failure for the government and parliament to allow the CFP to continue when the chance to rebuild the coastal fishing communities of Britain are so close.

    Sign The Petition Now

  2. As a beach stop net fisherman for over40yrs you can imagine my horror when swsf chairman of the board phoned me one day to tell me I could no longer fish for bass anymore we only have flounders and mullet to fall back on flounders 30p and mullet 80-90p per kilo as my monthly out going are roughly £1000 this would mean I would have to catch in excess of 3000 tons of flounders a month I have a 6 year old son and family to keep were only allowed 200mts of net bit of a tall order huh what do I do now nobody could be bothered even to tell me it took a week and a half to find out what Brussels had passed by the middle of may I will be bankrupt? Milford haven sea fish say it’s nothing to do with them Iv been holding on by the skin of my teeth for the last 2 years and now this the worst thing about it nobody cares a toot especially brussels

  3. The bass issue is just the latest heavy handed action by brussels and enforced by anglocrats and their lickspittle lackeys in typical colonial style, anglocrats play cricket other countries play rounders in any style that suits them at the time, no level playing field for them over the hills and far away. I will not go into the issue of french midwater trawling on bass but the whole issue seems to have been driven by the anglers self interest and the marxist driven green lobby always eager to latch on to any issue which can bring them attention in their agenda of change.

    I have been a fisherman most of my 68yrs and studied fishery science, starting on newfoundland labrador and greenland at sixteen I have seen stocks fished down and recover and seen fishermen and scientists after a while of conflicting opinions come together to understand stocks dynamics develop gear to reduce discards and develop sustainable quotas.Witness after reduction of the top predator by fleet restructure the stock recovery in the north sea, fishermen with forty years experience have never seen so much fish.Reduced fleet of modern vessels breaking landing records with high prices peterhead and shetland.

    Nature abhors a vacuum,fishermen and scientists working together with nature and common interest can manage stocks without heavy handed horse trading self interest self promoter politicians playing to the gallery and their eurocrat lackeys ignoring advice from those operating in the actual reality and interfering.

    In conversation with ill informed people I have often been informed that there are no fish left in the sea. I never engage in argument or debate. My reply, what cornflake packet did you read that on? Do your research and please engage your brain before operating your mouth. No if no but, I walk away.

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