UK Government accused of negotiating away valuable non-quota fish stocks to the EU fishing fleet

UK Government accused of negotiating away valuable non-quota fish stocks to the EU fishing fleet

The UK Government has been accused of giving away non-quota stock to the EU after it emerged that it does not hold comprehensive, historical records of the volume of non-quota stocks that has been caught by EU fishing vessels in UK waters.

Concerns are high that the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation agreement could lead to the serious overfishing of non-quota stocks by EU fishing vessels in UK waters. During the current contingency period, dozens of fly shooters (boats that use a type of Danish seine-netting) have appeared on the south coast of England and in the English Channel. Most of the Channel is not known as a traditional seine-netting area, but since the start of January this year more and more of these fishing vessels from the EU are appearing.

This has raised concerns right around the United Kingdom as greater numbers of EU registered fishing vessels are coming onto grounds they would not traditionally fish.

One of the problems being posed is that, for example, these fly shooters maybe targeting ground fish such as plaice or sole, but they are catching large quantities of non-quota stocks such as red mullet, squid and cuttlefish as bycatch. Under the current temporary agreement that is in place, these EU vessels are being allowed to catch non-quota stocks at historical levels, but it has been revealed that the UK Government, Defra and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) does not have a comprehensive feed of all data covering volumes of fish caught in the UK Exclusive Economic Zone by EU registered fishing vessels in terms of non-quota species. This could lead to disastrous results, especially for UK inshore boats if the TCA is passed and the fisheries deal remains in place for the next five years.

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Further on from last Friday’s revelations, where it was revealed that the Government has not carried out any at-seas inspections of British or foreign fishing vessels in January and February 2021, the Fisheries Secretary, Victoria Prentis has replied to a written question from Shadow Fisheries Spokesperson for the Labour Party, Luke Pollard’s question on non-quota stocks.

Mr Pollard had asked the Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, “how many tonnes of non-quota stocks were caught by EU vessels in England’s exclusive economic zone waters by species in each year between 2000 and 2020.”

To which Ms Prentis replied:

“The MMO uses data published by the EU Commission to estimate EU landings from UK waters as part of the annual MMO EEZA report. The report is available at along with the underlying data. These reports are available for the period 2012-2019, covering UK quota and non-quota landings. EU Data for 2021 is not yet available.

“The MMO does not hold comprehensive, historical records of activities by EU vessels, as these are held by their flag state. Table 1 provides an estimate of landings of non-quota species taken from English waters (EEZ and territorial waters) in the period 2012-2016 only.”

Estimates of the quantity (t) of non-quota species landed from English waters* by EU vessels (2012-16)


Species name

Average annual tonnage


Great Atlantic scallop



European pilchard(=Sardine)



Cuttlefish, bobtail squids nei






Edible crab



Tub gurnard



Lemon sole



Catsharks, etc. nei



European anchovy



Small-spotted catshark



Common squids nei



European seabass



Gurnards, searobins nei



Various squids nei



Red gurnard



Other non-quota species



All non-quota species



*English Territorial waters and EEZ.

The news that the MMO and UK Government has granted access to the EU fleet into UK waters to fish non-quota stocks without having comprehensive historical data has been met with disbelief by the fishing community in Britain.

David Stevens, owner of the Crystal Sea SS 118 who operates on the south coast questioned the UK’s handling of this issue.

“What control measures will be in place to check the amounts of pressure and non-pressure stock kicks catch compositions etc?

“How did the UK Fact Check EU amounts considering the UK had no access to the raw data?

“The EU certainly have for over exaggerating quarters to seek EU vessels.

“For example, on fact checking, an easy one would have been to run VMS data on individual scallopers or crabbers and compare catch rates with the UK vessels of similar capacity?

“For Whitefish non-pressure stocks, did they compare tonnages with UK tonnages?”

In Scotland, John Clark, owner and skipper of the Reliance III BF 800 has also said he has noticed a significant and disturbing increase in activity from EU boats operating on the Fladen grounds east of the Shetland Islands.

He said “I think this is an absolute joke. If the TCA deal was not bad enough, they then give a free hand on non-quota species to EU boats. It’s these non-quota species that the small boats rely on to make a wage. The UK fleet is being sacrificed again.”

Shadow Fisheries Spokesperson, Luke Pollard criticised the Government’s handling of fisheries during the negotiations for the TCA saying, “The Government’s Brexit deal has been disastrous for our fishing industry. Ministers don’t know what EU fishing boats are catching in our waters and have to ask our European friends for that data to find out.

“Non quota species like red mullet, cuttlefish and squid are all hugely important catches especially for small boats with no quota. Having traded away their 6-12nm fishing ground it now looks like Government are handing their fish over too. Defra’s only defence are carefully crafted soundbites and excuses, but they don’t have a plan to put right what they’ve broken.”

by Oliver McBride

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Great Government Giveaway of UK non-quota stocks to EU fishing fleet

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