As of midnight of Friday, the UK has exited the European Union but the problem of the ‘Transition Period’ still muddies the waters.

Even though Great Britain is out, the fishing industry in the UK is still at the mercy of trade negotiations. This is a belief that UK waters should be for the UK fishermen but there is also realism the UK boats will gain some access for reciprocal rights.

The big issue for UK fishermen is to be in control of who is entering their waters and they believe that this should not be up for negotiation, even though as BBC reported in their article Fishing will be a ‘red line’ in Brexit negotiations fishing “is the only industry to figure specifically in the list of negotiating priorities and is described as a ‘red line issue’.”

There is eleven-months of a Transition Period to thrash out a deal but the EU will be looking for access for as much of their fishing fleet as possible.

The UK, is in fact an independent coastal state since 00.01 on Saturday morning. This means it has the same recognition as countries like Norway and Iceland. It will no longer sit at the December Fisheries Council in Brussels and it will exit the Common Fisheries policy on the 31st December 2020.

Trade, though, is a major factor, even for the fishing industry. The EU is a large market for fish caught in the UK and without a direct access to these markets it could lead to a reduction in fishing activity. But at the same time the EU needs access to the rich fishing grounds, especially around Scotland.

The BBC report shows that UK boats land 32%, EU boats 43% and Norwegian 21%.of all the fish caught in UK water. That is less than a third. The EU fishing fleet catches closer to nearly half the fish.

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations say The transition period has been drastically truncated from when it was originally envisaged. It no longer includes a December Council when the UK would (under the Withdrawal Agreement) be “consulted” but would have no vote. Questions remain about how the UK will be included in the ongoing discussions between EU and Norway, on supplementary cod recovery measures in the North Sea and other aspects of the CFP. Dialogue will take place through some vehicle, but it is an open question whether “consultation” or being one voice amongst 15 leaves the UK in a weaker or stronger position for the remaining months of 2020.”

The UK does not have a seat at the next December Council in 2020. This raises a big issue for the UK fishing industry as the first six-month of will be spent negotiating the UK/EU framework agreement. At the end of the framework agreement negotiations, it becomes apparent the negotiations will not be concluded by the 31 December 2020, then there will be an extension, even though British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has promised the public otherwise.

Having no seat at the December Council will put the UK fishing industry in dire straits.

The question that is also raised is “how will this affect EU-Norway fisheries negotiations and UK-Norway fisheries negotiation?”

Even though these hurdles haven’t presented themselves yet the NFFO is optimistic.

“This is where things will begin to be very different from the past 40 years. Whatever progress has been made on the framework agreement, the UK will negotiate directly with the EU as an independent coastal state, with ultimate say over who may fish in UK waters and under what conditions. In the North Sea the EU will control around 20% of the waters, in Western Waters around 50%. The UK will make clear that whilst remaining committed to its international obligations on sustainable fishing, access will be granted to fish in its Exclusive Economic Zone, only in return for a shift in quota shares to reflect the resources located in UK waters. It is not insignificant that the EU takes (in value terms) around 5 times as much from UK waters as the UK fleet takes from EU waters, providing the UK with important negotiating leverage.”

However, with fishing making up just 0.1% of the UK economy, fishermen could not be blamed for being fearful that their interests could be sacrificed to achieve greater EU market access for huge industries like finance – which is nearly 70 times more economically significant to the UK.

Source BBC and the NFFO

Fisheries ‘A Red Line Issue’ for UK in Brexit Negotiations

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