23 March 2017
The Financial Times has reported on manoeuvrings by European fishing groups in France, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and Belgium to keep the status quo on fishing after Brexit. As these fleets take up to 80% of their catch in UK waters, it is not difficult to understand why they would want nothing to change.
But things have changed and will change. When the UK leaves the EU, it will leave the Common Fisheries Policy and will act as an independent coastal state. The principle of equal access will no longer apply, meaning that access to UK waters for non-UK vessels will have to be negotiated.
The European fleets have benefited enormously from free access to UK waters over the last 40 years. Probably the most relevant guide to the future is something like the Norwegian model, where access to fish in Norwegian waters is closely controlled by Norway and tied to conditions that are negotiated each year.
It is to be expected that the European industry will talk up the threat of prohibitive barriers to European markets, and it is true that we need and want to sell much of our product into Europe. But in the long term unimpeded trade is in the mutual interests of both the UK and the EU. After the posturing and threats a deal will be reached.
The bottom line is that the era of equal access is over. We will all have to deal with the necessary readjustments. It the case of the UK fishing industry, that means quota shares that broadly reflect the fish resources located in UK waters. And an exclusive 12 mile limit to protect our inshore fisheries.
Every European fishing organisation in Europe would demand the same of their governments if they were in our position.