The Shape of UK Fisheries Post-Brexit

    UK Fisheries Post-Brexit
    The UK's fishing industry hopes to abandon age-old Common Fisheries Policy

    The UK’s waters are some of the most productive fishing grounds worldwide and are the largest and most productive in Europe. Since the introduction of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 1983, the UK’s once thriving and vibrant fishing industry has significantly depleted. According to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, ‘almost 60 percent of the UK’s fish are caught by non-UK vessels under the common access granted by the Common Fisheries Policy.’ What has been widely deemed as one of the worst decisions made by government, has resulted in a vote to leave the Union; a bid to reshape UK fisheries post-Brexit, abandon the age-old policy and reclaim Britain’s waters.

    The CFP is a set of regulations that permits each member state equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds. It determines Total Allowable Catches (TACs) on an annual basis decided upon scientific advice on stock status, and then divides the TAC—or quota—between member states. British fishermen have long criticized the policy, saying that the limitations of their given quotas have threatened their livelihoods. They say the system unfairly prevents them from catching the maximum amount of any species within British waters. Limited quotas mean that fishermen must throw unwanted fish species back into the sea if it isn’t a part of their quota or if they have exceeded it. This wasteful practice is directly correlated to the depleting fish supplies in the ocean.

    The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations said that in recent years the industry has ‘seen a steady improvement in the health of the fish stocks in UK waters. Smaller fleets, more selective gears, seasonal closed areas and a high degree of cooperation between fishermen and fisheries scientists have put our fisheries firmly on the road to sustainability.’ A House of Commons briefing paper released in November 2016, ‘UK Sea Fisheries Statistics’ reported that 415,000 tonnes of fish were caught in UK waters in 2015, a steady increase from a peak low of 393,000 tonnes in 2009. Before the UK joined the European Union in 1973, this number was double of that caught today, with records from 1970 showing total catch in UK ports by UK vessels at 948,000 tonnes.

    Since 1984, the UK has been a net importer of fish by almost double the amount of produce it exports on an annual basis. Total imports of fish produce in 2015 reached £1.3 billion with the majority sourced from our European neighbours; almost double the total in imports in 1983. Interestingly, prior to the CFP implementation in 1983, the UK was a net exporter of fish produce. This implies that the limitations set by the policy are directly linked to the massive decline across the entire industry, and overall decline in the industry’s contribution to Britain’s GDP. The ‘UK Sea Fisheries Statistics’ government report estimates that UK vessels land approximately 400,000 tonnes of fish annually in UK waters, and between 200,000-300,000 tonnes of produce abroad.

    Declining employment

    It isn’t just the trade within the industry that has witnessed a decline, either. With a 28 percent decrease in UK vessels since 1996, the number of fishermen active in the industry has also declined. Today, the total number of fishermen both part-time and full-time in the UK amounts to 12,207; in the mid 90s, this number was closer to 20,000. In 1970, three years before the UK joined the Union—and way before the introduction of the CFP—the number of working fishermen was 21,443. However, further research suggests that the number of fishermen in the UK had actually been in slow decline since the second world war (47,824 in 1938). This indicates that there are other key factors that have contributed to the decline in employment rates besides the CFP, including unsustainable farming practice. In the 18th century, overfishing meant that fish stocks were unable to reproduce as fast as they were being harvested. Less catch meant a reduced need for fishermen. UK fisheries have worked in recent years to rectify this and the recent growth of fish stocks is due to sustainable marine management intervention, which has the opportunity to further improve sans the CFP.

    A fair deal to UK fisheries post-Brexit

    These numbers leave no guesses as to why UK fisheries across the nation campaigned to leave the Union. Britain’s fisheries believe that foreign access to UK waters is far too liberal because of the CFP. The NFFO states that 85 percent of Dutch catch is in UK waters along with 80 percent of the Normandy fleet’s catch.

    Once the UK has officially left the EU, it will be under no obligation to abide by CFP legislation which, according to the House of Lords European Union Committee report, ‘Brexit: Fisheries,’ gives Britain the opportunity to ‘develop a fisheries management regime that is tailored to the conditions of UK waters and its fleet.’

    A fair deal for UK fisheries post-Brexit, according to the NFFO, would include fair quota shares that allow British vessels to catch fish found in UK waters; free trade in fish products between the UK and the EU, and permission given to non-UK vessels to fish in UK waters only where it can ‘be used to bring proportionate advantages to the UK’s interests.’ The NFFO believes that safe and sustainable fishing practice relies heavily on good marine management, and this can be achieved through international fisheries agreements on a bilateral or trilateral basis. Without obligations to the CFP, UK fisheries post-Brexit will have the opportunity to regulate its own laws concerning marine management. The organisation says that ‘an independent UK fisheries regime offers the opportunity to coordinate quota setting rules; technical conservation requirements; and discard policy, in a much more coherent and integrated approach.’

    The NFFO’s chief executive, Barrie Deas, told Global Britain, ‘the UK fishing industry was ambushed when the UK joined the European Community and has been denied its rightful quota shares ever since. Brexit provides an opportunity to put this right and to shape an independent fisheries management regime free from the over-centralised and cumbersome CFP.’

    Free access for UK fisheries post-Brexit to resources found in British waters will give an independent Britain a thriving and sustainable fishing industry; a Britain that is independent of the CFP.