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.
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 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
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: www.nafc.uhi.ac.uk/eez-reports