EU fishing boats can operate in UK waters after Brexit, says Gove

Denmark's fishing industry was reportedly told by the UK environment secretary that EU boats will still have access to British waters after Brexit. [Stig Alenas/ Shutterstock]

The UK’s environment minister has told the Danish fishing industry that boats from EU countries will still be able to operate in British waters after Brexit, as the UK does not have enough capacity to catch and process all its fish alone. EURACTIV’s partner The Guardian reports.

The comments from Michael Gove, recounted by Danish fishing leaders after they met the environment secretary, prompted complaints from the Lib Dems and SNP that the government’s stance on the issue was confused.

In July, Gove said Britain was “taking back control” of its fisheries by departing from the EU common fisheries policy, which lets member states fish between 12 and 200 nautical miles off the UK’s coastline.

He also announced the UK’s withdrawal from the London fisheries convention, signed before the UK joined the EU, which lets vessels from the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands fish within between six and 12 nautical miles of each other’s coasts.

Britain moves to 'take back control' over fishing in its waters

Britain will withdraw from an agreement that allows some other European countries to fish between six and 12 miles from its coast in a move to “take back control” of fishing policy, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said on Sunday (2 July).

But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the plan had always been to allow other nations some access to UK territorial waters after Brexit, and that the extent of this could now be decided by the UK.

Gove, who was made environment secretary after June’s election, met representatives from Danish fish processing companies and the country’s fishing industry in Jutland on Monday, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper reported.

At the meeting Gove said the UK “does not have the capacity to catch and process all the fish in British waters” and thus boats from EU nations would be allowed continued access post-Brexit, the paper quoted Niels Wichmann, head of the Danish Fishermen’s Association, as saying.

Vella: 'By 2020, Mediterranean fish stocks should be subject to data collection'

The collection of accurate fish stock data in Mediterranean waters is a necessity for small-scale fishermen’s long-term survival, Karmenu Vella told EURACTIV.com in an interview. 

“It is a logical announcement, but it is still very positive and a little surprising that it comes … so early in the negotiation process,” said Wichmann, who reportedly attended the meeting.

Wichmann said Gove did not make clear whether Danish boats would be able to keep the same quotas or would have them reduced.

Esben Sverdrup-Jensen, head of Denmark’s Fish Industries Association, told Jyllands-Posten that while the quotas remained uncertain, it was positive that the UK was “being constructive and has not slammed the door”.

The Lib Dems’ Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, said Gove’s comments showed promises by the leave campaign about fishing were being broken.

He said: “Michael Gove chose to put stopping EU fishing in British waters front and centre of his campaign to leave the EU, yet is now telling Danish fishermen the opposite.”

The SNP said the government should clarify what was to happen. Stewart Stevenson, the party’s MP for Banff and Buchan Coast, said the government would not “stand up for rural Scotland’s interests” on the issue.

Commission accused over Baltic cod fishing limits

Conservationists have blamed the European Commission for being “picky” regarding the scientific advice it used to propose fishing limits in the Baltic Sea.

He said: “They might well be trying to keep voters and fishermen sweet at home with all sorts of promises, yet Michael Gove is jetsetting around Europe reassuring EU members that there will be nothing of the sort.”

A Defra spokeswoman said the issue was that the UK would be able to control which foreign ships fished within its territory.

“Leaving the EU means we will take back control of our territorial waters,” she said. “As we have always said, other countries will be able to access our waters – but for the first time in 50 years it will be on our terms and under our control.

“We will allocate quotas on the basis of what is scientifically sustainable, making sure we have a healthy marine environment and profitable fishing industry in the UK.”