The immediate issue confronting the fishing industry, as the covid-19 virus crisis takes grip…
New Government and Fisheries
The election of a Conservative government, with a solid majority, means that the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament seems guaranteed; meaning that the UK will leave the EU on 31st January 2020. The provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement spell out that, from that date, the UK will be an independent coastal state, with regulatory autonomy over fishing within its exclusive economic zone, albeit subject to a transition period to the end of 2020, during which the UK would still be subject to the Common Fisheries Policy.
The Government will also be in a position to reintroduce its Fisheries Bill to provide itself with powers to implement its programme on fisheries, including powers to control access over who is permitted to fish in UK waters, and to set its own quotas (accepting that for shared stocks, these will usually be set in cooperation with other coastal states.) The previous Bill was pulled after its provisions became at risk of the arithmetic in the previous Parliament.
Early next year, talks will begin between the UK and the EU on a framework fisheries agreement that will determine the shape of cooperation between the UK and EU, after the end of the transition period. A framework agreement could consist of very high-level statements, referencing cooperation on managing shared stocks, broad commitments to sustainable fishing, and compliance with the UN Law of the Sea. It is expected that a framework agreement could be concluded by the end of July. The current framework agreement between EU and Norway, is an obvious template.
Negotiations for an annual UK/EU fisheries agreement for 2021 would be expected to occupy the second half of 2020. There will also be tripartite and bilateral discussions with relevant coastal states such as Norway and Faeroes. The content of the annual fisheries agreement would include setting TACs, quota shares and exchanges, and access arrangements.
Both the EU and the UK accept, under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, that from the end of the transition period their fleets will have no automatic right to fish in each other’s waters. Access would be subject to negotiation, as would quota shares and quota exchanges.
The UK, in its White Paper, has made clear that some level of access could be granted to EU fleets to fish in UK waters, subject to the satisfactory negotiation of revised quota shares. The EU has made it equally clear that any free trade deal with the UK would be contingent on the status quo on access and quota shares.
In both the EU and the UK, fishing rights are a matter of high visibility and high political profile.
The stakes are therefore very high for all parties as we enter this next phase of negotiations with the EU. The UK fishing industry sees the UK’s departure from the EU as an opportunity to break free from a cumbersome and ineffective management system, and a chance to redress the asymmetrical access and quota arrangements which have worked to the UK’s disadvantage for 40 years. The EU will try to hang on to the current arrangements which work so well to its benefit.
Against this background, the NFFO will be working closely with UK Government to ensure that the commitments it has made on fisheries are delivered in full.