It has become clear that there will be no UK/Norway bilateral fisheries agreement for 2021. At a heads of delegation meeting today (29th April) Norway rejected a UK offer and it was concluded that the talks which have been under way since January could go no further.
This will mean that UK vessels will have no access to fish in Norwegian waters, north or south of 62o. Norwegian vessels will not be permitted to fish in UK waters. For the rest of 2021 It will also mean that quota exchanges will not take place. Traditionally, Norway has been interested in mainly pelagic quota, whilst the UK has been interested in demersal species, both in the North East Arctic and for North Sea stocks.
At an industry briefing immediately after the talks collapsed, the NFFO indicated that it would now be important to have full scrutiny and analysis of the negotiations. As both parties have much to gain from an annual fisheries deal, we are anxious to understand why it was not possible to find agreement. A meeting with fisheries ministers has been arranged.
The loss of very significant fishing opportunities will carry direct consequences for the vessels and fishing businesses concerned but also a range of indirect consequences, including fleet displacement.
Whilst the frustration and disappointment surrounding the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU was mainly driven by thwarted expectations, the failure to reach agreement with Norway will mean a significant and absolute reduction in fishing opportunities for our fleets.
Together with the failure of talks with Faroes to secure an agreement, there is likely to be a significant displacement effect as vessels try to make a living in the constrained waters of the North Sea and West of Scotland.
How to support vessels and fleets impacted, through what is turning out to be a very difficult year, will be at the forefront of the Federation’s points to ministers.
Until we receive a full briefing it will be difficult to understand the negotiation dynamic that led to this outcome but, as with the UK/EU negotiations, all parties will have an eye to the precedents set for the future. Access to fish in UK waters and post CFP adjustments are certainly part of the mix. Negotiations for an agreement for 2022 are expected to begin in the Autumn.
There are signs that the UK/EU negotiations for an agreement in 2021 are also coming to a head. Negotiations will resume tomorrow (30th April) and the EU is expected to respond to a UK final offer. The issue of access is not on the table but throughout the negotiations there has been a tension between the EU’s efforts to bind the UK back into CFP-type arrangements, and the UK’s scope to use regulatory autonomy when this is the preferable option. At some point this divergence is likely to become apparent, where agreement can’t be reached.