Myth and Bluster


The NFFO responds to an article in the Irish Times that asserts the UK position in negotiations is based on "myth-making and bluster" as it seeks to reset its fisheries relationship with the EU.

As negotiations between the UK and the EU reach a critical stage, Sean O’Donoghue makes the case for the status quo on fisheries on behalf of the European Fisheries Alliance. Here

The UK is accused of myth-making and bluster as it seeks to reset its fisheries relationship with the EU.

UN Law of the Sea

It is true, as Sean says, that there are responsibilities, enshrined in UN law of the sea, that require coastal states to cooperate on the sustainable harvesting of shared fisheries resources. Alongside those responsibilities, however, are a number of important rights. The foremost of these is the right for coastal states to harvest the resources within their exclusive 200-mile economic zones, and the right to control access to those resources.

This is the legal bedrock of the UK’s case for a new deal on fisheries. Quota shares and access arrangements should reflect the UK’s new legal status as an independent coastal state outside of the Common Fisheries Policy.


Three statistics illustrate vividly why UK fishermen consider that they were sold out by their own government in 1974 and again in the quota share out in 1983:

  • Channel cod: UK share 9%; French share 84%
  • Celtic Sea haddock: UK share 10%; French share 66%
  • EU vessels take 5 times as much out of UK waters, in value terms, as UK fleets take out of EU waters


In short, for the 40 years over which the UK has been tethered to the Common Fisheries Policy, the EU fleets have had the lion’s share of the fish resources in UK waters. The legal conditions that underpinned that asymmetrical relationship are now falling away as the UK leaves the EU.

The EU is playing hardball by making an artificial linkage between a trade deal and a deal on fisheries. That is a dangerous game of Russian roulette for all concerned. A compromise is available on fish – access for EU vessels to fish in UK waters in return for a move to quota shares which reflect the resources located in UK waters. In other words, the international norm, governed by UNCLOS on how two coastal states should relate to each other.

Time will tell which side has been telling itself stories to keep up its courage. For our part, we see no sign that our Government is preparing to sell-out its fishers a second time.