European Union fishing fleets will have to give up a quarter of their current catch in British waters over the next five and a half years, officials said Thursday (24 December).
Under the post-Brexit trade deal agreed with the UK, after this transitional period access to its rich fishing grounds would be negotiated on an annual basis.
This represents a compromise. Earlier in the negotiations Britain was pushing for an 80 or 60% cut in the EU’s share, phased in over only three years.
Boats from the continent will also be allowed to work in British inshore waters less than 12 nautical miles from shore during the transition.
But it will still be a bitter pill to swallow for many fishing communities in northwestern Europe, which have worked what are now UK waters for centuries.
The issue of fishing was one of the hardest to resolve in the ten month post-Brexit trade negotiation, and at times threatened to derail the deal.
“After 5.5 years it will be renegotiated,” a European diplomat said, acknowledging concerns that Britain could shut out EU boats.
But he warned: “If that does not produce sufficient results, the treaty gives the EU the opportunity to take action.”
This would mean initially that, if the EU is not satisfied with the new quota it could impose measures against the UK fishing sector.
“But ultimately if necessary also, via an escalation ladder, on the entire agreement.”
British negotiators had resisted this provision.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier vowed Brussels would stand by Europe’s fishing fleets after Britain leaves the union on 31 December.
“This agreement will require efforts,” Barnier said. “I know the European Union will support its fishermen and women. It will accompany them.”