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Seizing Opportunities: The UK Fisheries Bill

The UK Government published its White Paper on the Fishing Industry on 25th of October 2018 where it states “for the first time since 1973, the Fisheries Bill will enable the UK to control who may fish in our waters and on what terms.”

Taking back control became the mantra of the Brexiteers during the short campaign of the EU referendum. A campaign fuelled by unfounded fears of immigration which saw the murder of one MP, Jo Cox, knifed down in the streets of her own constituency.

Heading DEFRA – the UK’s Department of Environment and Rural Affairs is leading Brexiteer Michael Gove.

He said:

“This new Fisheries Bill will allow us to create a sustainable, profitable fishing industry for all of the UK. It will regenerate coastal communities, take back control of our waters and, through better conservation measures, allow our precious marine environment to thrive.

“The Common Fisheries Policy has damaged the UK’s fishing industry and our precious fish stocks. The Bill will deliver a sustainable fishing industry, with healthy seas and a fair deal for UK fishermen.”

map of international boundaries

Map of international boundaries by Andmoreagain0815

The UK waters are mostly in the Scottish sector and the management of fishing is currently a devolved matter. The negotiations on quota etc are decided upon by the rEU and the UK Tory Government Ministers within the framework of  the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The Common Fisheries Policy was set up when the UK joined the EU and was negotiated by the then UK Tory Prime Minister, Ted Heath. Once the quota has been agreed between the UK Government and the EU then the management of whatever is agreed  is taken over by the Scottish Government – to try to make the best of it for the fishing industry and its communities in Scotland.

When the UK leaves the EU in about 5 months time the UK Government will take back everything with regards to the fishing industry and from that point on will then give to Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland limited powers. Or will it?

“The Scottish Government will receive new powers to regulate its sea fisheries resources to preserve the marine environment. This will allow the Scottish Government to protect its coastal and off shore marine habitats.”

“Further new powers will also allow the Scottish Government to act to tackle aquatic animal diseases, ensuring any threat is dealt with as quickly as possible and protecting the vitally important and valuable Scottish fish farming industry.”

Fishing Quotas – the big issue

Scotland will have no power over fishing quotas – that will be reserved for the UK Government to decide. New schemes will also be set up for England to ‘tender for additional quota.’

The new legislation will  preserve the ” UK vessels’ right to fish across the four zones of UK waters” creating ” a consistent approach to managing access of foreign vessels.”

The Bill also provides powers to reform fisheries rules. To ensure legal continuity, the EU (Withdrawal) Act transferred CFP rules into UK law. 

DEFRA has said that it will work closely with the devolved administrations of Wales, N.Ireland (currently being run by civil servants) and Scotland. The interests of England will be taken care of by a UK Department. This presents the scenario that should there be a conflict of interests between Scotland, Wales and N Ireland and the UK Government that the UK representing also the interests of England will have the deciding say.

There is no date set yet for the 2nd reading of the Bill however, The fisheries policy authorities (the devolved administrations ) must prepare and publish a Joint Fisheries Statement  before 1st January 2021.  This statement has to be agreed by all parties.   The Secretary of State must also prepare and publish an SSFS before 1 January 2021

The Gap Years

What happens between Brexit Day, March 29th 2018 and 1st January 2021?

It looks like the Common Fisheries Policy will be in place till the Joint Fisheries Statements are agreed and the Fishing Industry will have to comply what is laid down in that. As the UK will no longer be in the EU at this time it will have no say over the CFP.

It must also be noted that countries not in the EU also fish in UK waters (mostly Scottish sector). States, for example Norway and The Faroes, have a negotiated deal with the EU.

As a member of the EU the UK also received funding from the EMFF (European Maritime Fisheries Fund). Many coastal and island communities in Scotland benefited from this fund. It was used to build piers, processing facilities, safety equipment for boats –  the infrastructure needed for a thriving fishing industry. That will be gone when we leave the EU.

The London Fisheries Convention

On 3rd of  July 2017,the UK formally gave notice  of its intention to withdraw from the LFC. Under the Convention: The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France and Ireland can fish for certain species in certain areas of UK and Crown Dependency territorial waters within 6 to 12 nautical miles from the coast. The Crown Dependencies are Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. UK vessels have access to certain areas and for certain species 6-12nm from the coast of the Netherlands, Germany, France and Ireland.

A two-year withdrawal period will come to an end on 2 July 2019.

Reminder: all fishing in the UK (in or out of the EU) is governed by UNCLOS – The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This sets limits on what coastal states can and cannot do.

These are not normal times

The UK Government has stated that it will not ‘normally legislate for areas within the competence of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales or the Northern Ireland Assembly without the consent of the legislature concerned.’ Although ‘not normally’ could mean a lot of things.

For the Crown Dependencies: Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man (which are not part of the UK), the UK Government will ‘seek consent‘.

As you can imagine setting this all up will cost money because it will have to be administered. Will the funding once provided by the EMFF be replaced – fully, partially or  at all?

Bertie Armstrong an enthusiastic Brexiteer  who heads the Scottish Fisheries Federation said of the Bill:

“This is a necessary piece of legislation that sets a completely new framework for fisheries management outside the universally detested Common Fisheries Policy.

“Control of UK waters will no longer be exercised by the dead hand of EU bureaucracy but by our governments at Westminster and Holyrood, which we trust will work together in harmony to seize the Sea of Opportunity that stretches out before us.

“The Scottish Government’s own figures suggest that this could be worth an additional £540 million per year to the seafood industry plus a total of 5,000 new jobs.

“And it is accessible through an effective and reactive fisheries management regime that avoids placing unnecessary constraints on skippers and crew doing a difficult job at sea.”

Perhaps Bertie Armstrong has forgotten that the ‘dead hand of  EU bureaucracy’ included UK Ministers? What was negotiated as part of the CFP was agreed to by the UK Government.

The Bill certainly uses the word ‘opportunities’ a lot especially in the place of the word ‘quotas’. Control over quotas, sorry opportunities, will be with the UK Government in London. Management of fisheries will ‘normally’ be with the devolved administrations which means that can also be controlled by the UK Government in London. The whole shebang will cost unknown amounts of money to set up and administer.

And we still have to sell the fish.

A Cullercoats Fishlass, 1883” Will ye buy, will ye buy, will ye buy my fresh fish?”The Cullercoats Fish Lass

Reporter: Fiona Grahame


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