Brexit Environment Marine and Fisheries

UK-EU Future Relationship: Fisheries

This is the latest in a series of posts looking at the UK Government’s White Paper on the Future relationship between the UK and the EU. For a general overview of the proposals see our previous blog post.

23 August 2018

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | Read this post in Welsh

This is the latest in a series of posts looking at the UK Government’s White Paper on the Future relationship between the UK and the EU. For a general overview of the proposals see our previous blog post.

This post looks specifically at the elements of the White Paper that relate to fisheries. More detailed proposals for future fisheries management post-Brexit are laid out in Defra’s Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations White Paper published for consultation on the 4 July, the key points from this paper are laid out below along with early stakeholder reactions.

Fisheries is a complex area of the UK-EU relationship. For an overview of Welsh fisheries and developments in the Brexit negotiations see our recent blog post on Brexit and Welsh Fisheries.


A key feature of the White Paper is the proposed future economic partnership between the UK and the EU. Key to the economic partnership is the creation of a new free trade area for goods including agricultural, food and fisheries products. This feature of the White Paper has been covered in a previous blog post; The agri-food sector.

The high-level fisheries message from the White Paper reiterates the UK Government’s position that:

On leaving the EU, the UK will become an independent coastal state under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As a result, the UK will control access to fish in its waters, both in territorial seas and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The paper highlights the UK Government’s commitment to work “closely with Member States and other coastal states to ensure sustainable management of shared stocks and the wider marine environment”. To achieve this, the paper proposes to:

  • agree a mechanism for annual negotiations on access to waters and fishing opportunities; and
  • promote sustainable fisheries to meet international commitments such as sustainable development goals.

Interestingly, the paper states that access to water and fishing opportunities is separate to access to markets for fish and fish products. This position was reiterated on 17 July by George Eustice MP in evidence to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, where he said:

… negotiations on fisheries access and fisheries management as being one strand under an association agreement, and trade as being an entirely separate one. We do not see the two as being connected.

However, on 14 March the European Parliament adopted its position on the framework for a future relationship between the EU and the UK. This states:

… the level of access to the EU domestic market must be conditional on the level of access for EU vessels to the UK fishing grounds and their resource.

On 23 March the European Council adopted its negotiation guidelines on the framework for the future EU-UK relationship. The guidelines outline that a future Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and UK should include reciprocal access to fishing waters.

Access to water and fishing opportunities

The White Paper sets out that “any decisions about giving access to UK waters for vessels from the EU, or any other coastal states will be a matter for negotiation.” It proposes that the UK, EU and other interested coastal states “should agree to annual negotiations on access rights and fishing opportunities for UK, EU and coastal state fleets.”

The paper states that the UK will “seek to move from” the current Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) principle of relative stability, where EU Member States receive a fixed share of fishing opportunities (quota) based on historic catch records. The move will be towards a “more scientific method” of setting catch limits (‘Total Allowable Catch’ – TACs) for the UK, which will then be allocated to the devolved administrations using historic catch records under the 2012 Concordat Agreement.

Further to this the paper says that any access to UK waters by non-UK registered vessels would be conditional on adherence to the same requirements as UK vessels, including sustainable practices.

Sustainable fisheries

The White Paper identifies the UK as champion of sustainable development and marine conservation. Further to commitments under United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14, it says the UK Government will aim to show this by;

  • continuing to apply the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) principle;
  • continuing to work with European partners to regulate fishing and to set harvest rates that restore and maintain fish stock;
  • … remaining fully committed to ending the wasteful discarding of fish;
  • … publishing an annual assessment on the state of stocks of interest and our approach to setting fishing opportunities for the year ahead. If particular stocks are becoming depleted, the Government will work with all interested parties to draw up and implement recovery plans; and
  • … working closely with the devolved administrations, Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories who are responsible for conservation measures for stocks concentrated in their territorial waters.

UK Government Fisheries White Paper – key points

On 4 July the UK Government published its Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations White Paper. This White Paper contains the detail of proposed future fisheries management, setting out the UK Government’s proposed approach:

  • promoting sustainable fisheries;
  • access agreements and quota allocation;
  • Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) technical regulations;
  • a new UK framework; and
  • reforming fisheries management.

The White Paper makes clear that it is a “UK Government policy document”, and the extent of the provisions will depend on existing powers and what is agreed between the UK administrations:

…some will have UK-wide extent; others will apply to England only, others to England and the Devolved Administrations that wish to adopt them.

The White Paper states that the UK Government “do not intend to change the method of allocating existing quota”. A Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP) report, Implications of Brexit for fishing opportunities in Wales, commissioned by the Welsh Government, states Wales is “allocated less than 1% of the total UK fishing quota, and only around 0.02% of EU fishing quota overall”. To enable the Welsh fishing industry to grow, WCPP comments:

…as any increases would accrue to existing UK quota holders, the Welsh fleet requires a different arrangement of quota sharing within the UK to get its fair share.

Stakeholder reaction

As the proposed future fisheries management details are contained in the Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations White Paper, there appears to have been little stakeholder response to the fisheries elements of the future relationships White Paper. Early stakeholder reactions to the fisheries White Paper are outlined below.

The fisheries White Paper aims to promote sustainable fisheries by pursuing an ecosystems approach in line with the UK Government’s 25-year environment plan. It states it will make “adherence to sustainable practices a pre-condition of any future access to our waters”:

We will continue to apply the principle of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) when setting or agreeing total allowable catches (TACs), and we will promote fishing within MSY ranges in line with international scientific advice on mixed fisheries.

The Marine Conservation Society has called this approach “far too vague”, saying references to sustainability in the new Fisheries Bill are lacking “commitments to key principles and objectives that are essential for sustainability.” RSPB’s review uses similar language, adding that “failure to give legal teeth to an ecosystem approach will leave UK fisheries less sustainable”.

The White Paper states “we do not yet know the outcome of the UK’s negotiations to withdraw from the EU or on a future economic partnership”, and as such, “The powers proposed … have therefore been developed to make sure that we can respond flexibly and quickly”. However early stakeholder responses again criticise the White Paper for its vagueness. The New Economics Foundation says:

It is incredibly dangerous to make all policy change conditional on certain Brexit outcomes.

The lack of detail within the White Paper is theme throughout environmental stakeholders’ responses, with ClientEarth welcoming the proposals yet saying:

The government’s plans for fisheries after Brexit are promising but alarmingly devoid of detail about its environmental commitments

The National Federation of Fishermen Organisation’s (NFFO) analysis is more positive, saying that the fisheries White Paper “… aligns quite closely with what the UK fishing industry wants and expects.”  However it highlights areas where more work is needed, in particular for Wales:

How to operate a system of devolved responsibilities within an overall UK framework is underdeveloped in the White Paper.

Welsh Government reaction

The Welsh Government will also be bringing forward a Welsh Fisheries Bill. This was confirmed by the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM, in evidence submitted to the Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs (CCERA) Committee ahead of Brexit scrutiny on 18 July.

The Cabinet Secretary was asked about timescales for a Welsh Fisheries Bill, she responded;

In relation to a Welsh fisheries Bill, I haven’t got a timescale … I would imagine the fisheries Bill I will be looking to go out to consultation on towards the end of this year, maybe early next year, in preparation.

When asked for views on the UK Fisheries White Paper she said:

I think I’ve been very clear right from the beginning that I don’t support the current allocation process. It favours big business, and I think it’s led to a commercialisation of fishing opportunities

The next blog post in the series will look at what the proposals in the White Paper might mean for transport in Wales.

Article by Lorna Scurlock, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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