Round table with Secretary of State

6th July 2017 in Brexit, Domestic Fisheries Policy, Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The top DEFRA ministerial team, led by Secretary of State, Michael Gove, met recently with key UK stakeholders to hear their aspirations and discuss the risks associated with the UK’s departure from the EU.

Round table with Secretary of State

Minister's were mainly in listening mode and stakeholders were invited to present their views on the process of leading the EU and the shape of a post-Brexit fisheries regime. Broader marine issues such as marine spatial planning and how to achieve and maintain clean seas was also discussed but fisheries were the main focus.

The event provided an opportunity for the industry organisations, including the NFFO, to advance their understanding of the process of leaving the CFP and where we would like to be post-Brexit.

  • As the UK leaves the EU it automatically leaves the Common Fisheries Policy
  • Henceforth, the UK will operate as an independent coastal state taking its duties and responsibilities under the United Nations Law of the Sea
  • Access for non-UK vessels to fish in UK waters will be subject to UK conditions. These will be negotiated bilaterally with the countries concerned, primarily EU, Norway and Faeroes in annual fisheries negotiations
  • Quota shares will also be subject to negotiation but the broad principle should be that the UK’s share should reflect the resources located in UK waters

The shape of UK fisheries management post-Brexit was discussed, including the form that the landing obligation should take in the UK in light of the looming chokes problem.

Minister's were warned that fisheries management seems to be particularly prone to the law of unintended consequences. A Norwegian scientist was quoted as saying that fisheries management is not rocket science. It is much more complicated than that. It will be important, therefore, that the UK’s management system, whilst ambitious and aspirational, does not bind itself in legal structures that prevent a change of course when things go wrong. We need a flexible and responsive management system and in this respect it is important to learn from the (negative) experience of the CFP where it takes years not months to change course. It will also be important that the UK management system is internally coherent, with the component parts dovetailing together. Again, the CFP provides a negative example of the things to avoid.

The diversity of the fleets, fair quota allocation arrangements, the positive role of producer organisations, and enforcement post Brexit were all discussed.

There was broad agreement that sustainable levels of fishing would be the bedrock of the UK’s fishing policies after Brexit. The most recent ICES advice has reconfirmed that not only are most commercial species fished sustainably, but we are on course to deliver high average yields. The high reputation of our fisheries products in the marketplace reflect that positive conservation status and it will be important to maintain the course that was set around 2000 and has served us so well so far, despite the limitations of the CFP.

This was an important first meeting with the new Secretary of State and other key ministers. It will not be the last. The signs are that the Secretary of State, one of the big hitters in Government and Cabinet circles, is personally committed to delivering a good deal for fishing and that cannot but strengthen our industry’s position as we leave the EU.