The UK outlined plans to overhaul its fishing policy on Wednesday, insisting that it would decide unilaterally how much access to give to EU boats after it leaves the bloc next March.
In a White Paper published on Wednesday (4 July), Environment Secretary Michael Gove said that leaving the EU would allow Britain to become “an independent coastal state for the first time in over 40 years”.
Gove said that the “allocation of fishing opportunities under the Common Fisheries Policy is outdated, and the UK’s share does not accurately reflect the resources in UK waters.”
“We will decide who can access our waters after 2020, and on what terms,” he stated.
“Access to UK waters will be on our terms, under our control and for the benefit of UK fishermen.”
The UK claims that boats from other EU countries landed around 760,000 tonnes of fish worth €600 million per year from its waters between 2012 and 2016 compared to €125 million of fish stocks landed by UK boats from other EU countries during the same period.
The government wants to separate the issue of access to its waters from that of how much British fish is exported to the EU in its Brexit discussions with Brussels, including the sector as part of a wider settlement on food and drink.
For its part, the European Commission’s Article 50 Taskforce led by Michel Barnier argues that EU vessels must continue to be allowed unfettered access to fish in UK waters if London wants to continue selling its products into the EU market.
London will inherit around 100 pieces of law related to the CFP after Brexit and will remain part of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and its quota schemes until the end of the planned post-Brexit transition period in December 2020.
However, in May 2017 ministers began the two year process of withdrawing from the 1964 London Fisheries Convention which allows vessels from the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands to fish within between six and 12 nautical miles of each other’s coasts.
UK fishermen have long complained that EU membership has damaged their industry. Eight in ten Britons want to leave the little-loved CFP immediately after Brexit becomes reality in March 2019, according to a survey by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. The UK fishing lobby carries far less weight politically than their counterparts in France and Spain and many in the industry fear that fisheries will end up being traded off by Theresa May’s government.
Leaving the CFP appears unlikely to increase the amount of fish they will be able to land. Gove, who has promised a “green Brexit’, stated that the government will “continue to work under the principle of maximum sustainable yield, which has done so much to restore stocks.”
“We now need our governments to show real backbone in the Brexit negotiations to ensure that these aspirations become reality,” said the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation Chief Executive Bertie Armstrong.