A Sea of Opportunity? Fishing after Brexit

By Fiona Grahame

FionaThere’s been much misunderstanding and misinformation floating about the Scottish Fishing Industry with regards to Brexit. In this article I will attempt to redress the balance and put a bit of perspective into the issue.

Firstly Fishing is an extremely valuable industry especially to Scotland: economically and socially with the sustainability of many of our coastal and island communities dependent upon it.

“There were 453 thousand tonnes of sea fish and shellfish landed by Scottish registered vessels in 2016, with a value of £557 million.” National Statistics

The Common Fisheries Policy

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.

It is the UK Government who negotiates the final deals with regards to fishing quotas with the EU. Representatives from the Scottish Government have over recent years been present at these negotiations and can ‘plead’ Scotland’s case but the deal is finalised by  UK Ministers. Successive Labour and Conservative UK Governments are responsible for the failure to negotiate advantageous deals for the Scottish fishing industry.

“Once fish quota has been allocated to the UK, allocation within the UK is a domestic process. The UK Government apportions quotas amongst the devolved administrations, who become responsible for fisheries management thereafter.” SPICe Implications of Leaving the EU- Fisheries

When The UK Leaves the EU on March 29th 2019 it will also leave 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.

And when we talk about UK waters it is wise to keep this map in mind because those waters are mainly in the Scottish sector.

map of international boundaries

Map of international boundaries by Andmoreagain0815

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.

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 United Nation Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

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

The importance of Article 62(3)

The UK must “minimize economic dislocation in States whose nationals have habitually fished in the zone”.

The non UK EU fishing industry has benefitted and has relied upon having free access to Scotland’s fishing grounds . If they were now denied access to those grounds the impact on their industry would be significant. This is why a year ago Ian Gatt , as 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.  In the negotiations over Brexit the non-UK EU fishing industry will I expect make claims under UNCLOS Article 62(3) on retaining access to Scotland’s fishing grounds.

“The EU-27 vessels operating in the UK waters landed 656,000 tonnes of fish on average 2012-2014Common Fisheries Policy and Brexit

The London Fisheries Convention

The London Fisheries Convention of 1964 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…”. The UK Government   has given its notice to quit this agreement.

Taking Back Control

The Leave campaign was very successful in delivering the message to the fishing communities that a Leave vote would ‘bring back control’.

Leading this campaign was  Bertie Armstrong chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Association. He does not want a 2 year transition period after Brexit as suggested by the UK Govt:

” we need only a nine-month bridge between leaving the CFP and assuming Coastal State rights. It’s common sense.”

Bertie Armstrong often uses phrases like ‘common sense’ and ‘reasonable thing to do’.

“There is no legal mechanism for running on the CFP for a transition period – that would involve us, a new Coastal State, asking the EU to continue to govern our waters and graciously receive the thick end of £2bn over the transition, leaving our place at the grown-ups’ table empty. Norway, Iceland and the Faroes would die of gleeful laughter”.

” it makes sense for us to leave the CFP within the early stages of the transition period. Due to the nature of the annual international fisheries calendar, that is by December 2019.”

“there is broad agreement that for our fishing communities there is a Sea of Opportunity ahead and we should get on with making the most of it.”

The Sea of Opportunity

The Common Fisheries Policy was disastrous for the Scottish Fishing Industry. Over the years what was once a fleet to be proud of was virtually destroyed. Perfectly good fish were dumped overboard due to a quota system. But remember all this had been agreed to by a UK Government. It was not foisted upon the UK by the other EU members. It was agreed to by the UK Government negotiators – and the deal Scotland got was rotten.

The Scottish Parliament has devolved powers over fishing. This means that today we do have some control, within the limits of the agreements signed off by UK Ministers. Control over fishing is extremely important in Scotland. For the UK as a whole, it is of very little importance. It is expendable.

The UK Government is pressing on ahead with legislation which will see control of fishing on Brexit being removed from the Scottish Parliament.

After the latest round of talks between the Scottish and UK Governments Michael Russell, the Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, said:

Michael Russell  Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe

Photo Scot Gov

“It was deeply disappointing that the UK Government did not bring forward any new proposal today and are pressing ahead with a bill that, even with their proposed amendment, would allow them to unilaterally take control of devolved powers without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.

“We are clear that the EU Withdrawal Bill must be amended so that the devolution settlement cannot be changed without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

“Devolved powers covering farming, fishing, the environment and a range of other areas are at risk. But let’s be clear: the EU Withdrawal Bill allows the UK Government to take control of any devolved power, regardless of any list produced today.

“Right now we are being asked to sign away the Parliament’s powers with no idea of how UK-wide frameworks will work, how they will be governed and how we will go from the temporary restrictions the UK Government wants to agreeing longer term solutions.

“We can’t allow that to happen.

 “We continue to want an agreed solution and to be able to recommend consent to the Scottish Parliament – however without further movement by the UK Government we will press ahead with our EU Continuity Bill, which received overwhelming backing across the Scottish Parliament yesterday.”

The Continuity Bill being proposed in both the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments seeks to ensure that those powers currently devolved to the two nations will continue to be so.

  • The fishing industry is important to Scotland
  • The UK waters are mainly in Scottish Seas.
  • The UK Government was responsible for the bad deal negotiated with the CFP

Additional thoughts: it’s not just sea fishing

“France alone accounts for around 36% to 40 % of the UK exports to EU-27, depending on
the types of seafood products, before Spain and Ireland at 14%”

“Not only will Brexit impact sea fisheries, it will reduce aquaculture produced seafood in the EU as the UK is estimated to create 21% of total income from aquaculture mostly salmon.”

“More generally, demand for seafood in UK and EU-27 markets from UK waters, especially in the short term, is not likely to change much. However depending on the type of product exported to the EU (i.e. fresh or processed) it will affect producer and consumer prices accordingly, which might be somewhat in line with tariffs imposed. For example, the estimated average UK weighted import tariff is 13% and the export tariff is 11%”. Common Fisheries Policy and Brexit 

fishing-mackerelWho do you think the ‘Sea of Opportunity’ will benefit  if the UK Government takes back control of Scotland’s seas?


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4 replies »

  1. The power grab by the current UK Government will allow them to offer benefits to the EU during the negotiation of Brexit in trade for reciprocal benefits to the UK. Fishing rights will without a doubt be used in this way and the benefits felt by the UK will principally by felt in the south east of England.
    The Scottish Government is truly right to resist this threat to an important Scottish industry to the extent that a second independence referendum should be on the table.

  2. The article may be somewhat deficient in that it does not make any reference to the London Fisheries Convention 1964 which preceded the CFP and the role that treaty may have had in setting the agenda subsequently implemented bringing us to the CFP.

  3. Excellent article. Including the part on the London Fisheries Convention! Should be required reading for all fisher folk.

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