The Laws of the Sea Convention
The Convention allows countries to establish an exclusive economic zone up to 200 nautical miles from the coast.
When UK leaves the EU it will have control of all fish within this zone.
But, there are “riders”, the laws place a commitment on countries to ensure fish stocks are conserved and allowable catches are specified and where applicable shared with other countries.
Norway which is not a member of the EU, maintains a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, but it has agreements in place with a number of countries, both outwith and within EU allowing fishing in its waters.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy – How it Works
All member countries of the EU, with a fishing industry are allocated an annual fishing quota, being a share of the “total allowable catch” (TAC) within EU waters, for each type of fish, set by the European Council of ministers.
Quota’s are necessary to ensure fishing is sustainable and EU waters are not overfished.
In the case of non EU countries where fishing resources are shared E.G. Norway, similar quotas are put in place.
The quota system evolved through discussion over many years is now relatively stable and fair and is unlikely to change in the near future.
The UK was disadvantaged at the time it joined the EU since quota’s were allocated against the fishing patterns of member countries and the UK fishing fleet mainly operated in Icelandic waters, until 1976 and the introduction of the 200 mile exclusion zone which required the UK to give up fishing in Icelandic waters.
The quota system does not give licence to EU countries to fish anywhere within UK waters.
It is for each member state to permit or deny fishing rights and quotas up to 100 miles, for fleets that have traditionally operated in the area.
The laws applicable to this quirk time out in 2022 and it is doubtful they would be renewed after Brexit.
UK Fishing Catch 2004-2015
The UK catch has increased year on year between 2004 and 2014.
Total fish landed in 2004 was approximately 650,000 tonnes.
Annual increases in quota’s have increased the catch to the present day 775,000 tonnes.
The largest catch of any country in the EU.
The UK (TAC) is estimated to be just over 30% of catchable fish in EU waters.
Discussions are on-going and it is expected the UK quota will be increased further in respect of cod stocks of which are increasing.
4 Dec 2015: Fish quota boost after Norway and EU talks
Significant increases in fishing quotas for Scottish fishermen have been agreed for key stocks in 2016.
The deal followed talks between the EU and Norway.
It was agreed that the total allowable catch (TAC) for cod could increase by 15% and North Sea herring by 16%.
Haddock catches were given a 30% boost with an extra 17% for vessels affected by the discard ban, taking the total increase to 47%.
Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “These significant increases for both haddock and cod, in line with scientific advice, are good news for the fishing industry.
Following a year which saw landings up by nearly a fifth and revenues worth over £500m these increases in quota mean fishermen can further boost catch and profits and could be worth over £15m.
This will also help the fleet manage the discard ban, which will stop dead haddock being thrown back into the sea, which will in turn improve the stocks of fish.”
Conservative MEP for Scotland Ian Duncan said decisions for every species have yet to be taken, but he voiced his delight with the outcome reached on Friday.
He said: “Let me be clear, on the whole this is a fantastic result for the Scottish fishing industry and I pay tribute to them and all the hard work and pain they have endured over the last decade or so to be in a position today that sees cod TAC increase by 15% to 27,930 tonnes in EU waters.
Considering where we were not that long ago, this in itself would be incredible.
But the news for haddock; an increase of almost 50% and north sea herring; an increase of 16% on top of the cod figures leaves the industry in very good heart this evening.”
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “This agreement reflects the healthy nature of our stocks and will bring some welcome relief to our hard-working fishermen who are committed to a sustainable future.
Challenges remain, and while the quota uplift for haddock and other stocks to cope with the discard ban will be welcomed, only time and a great deal of effort from fisheries managers, the Scottish fleet and the supply chain as whole will help ensure the discard ban scheme works when it is phased in from 1 January 2016.
16 August 2016: The Repeal Bill – Regaining Control of Scottish waters – Scottish Fishermen’s Federation Statement
Brexit provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to restore normality and give our industry a real chance to prosper once again.
But what do I mean by restoring normality? Well, leaving the EU returns us to a position enjoyed by coastal states around the world in giving us control of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around our coast.
Control of our fishing was traded away when we joined the European Economic Community in 1973. Our waters became “common grazing”.
Just look to Norway to see how its seafood industry has prospered outside the EU whilst ours suffered from being within.
The central point is that on Brexit the UK will be in charge of its own EEZ.
We will have the critical mass to control the bulk of fishing on the northern continental shelf, with some of the best fishing grounds in the world.
Nobody will suggest that we should overfish, ignore the science, immediately refuse access to other countries or suddenly abandon cooperation, but we will at last be a normal coastal state under international law, forging regulation, access and opportunity to fit our newly recovered rights.
In other words, we will be the managing partner of our EEZ and will be able to lead the way in developing fit-for-purpose management that will enable fishing to sustainably develop.
It has the potential to deliver a fishing management structure in our EEZ that supports communities, jobs, sustainable fishing and proper environmental protection.
It also gives us the chance to deliver fairer shares of catching opportunities in UK waters; our fish, our rights. That surely is a prize worth pursuing.
The kindest thing we can be say about the Common Fisheries Policy, given 28 Member States, the existence of the European Parliament of 751 MEPs and the decision-making processes of the European Union, is that if a least-worse option is achieved on any issue affecting the Scottish fleet, then it’s a matter for celebration.
Over the past 40 years the management of our fisheries through the (CFP) has been lamentable with this distant, centralised and monumentally inefficient management regime producing an endless stream of largely dysfunctional rules and regulations.
There is no doubt that the Brexit negotiations will be a difficult process, and the transition process will prove challenging.
Indeed, we have real fears that during the complex negotiations that a ‘conciliatory’ settlement will be made on fisheries with the aim of securing concessions elsewhere.
Such form of double jeopardy would be unacceptable – having been seriously damaged in the cause of EU entry, the fishing industry must not be damaged at EU exit, especially when there is so much potential to deliver economic benefit to the UK.
But make no mistake, the size of the prize is enormous, and if the right deal is reached on Brexit, it will turn us back into a world-class seafood harvesting and exporting country. (SFF)
18 Apr 2017: EU to contest UK efforts to ‘take back control’ of fisheries
The British government’s plan to “take back control” of its waters after leaving the EU is to be challenged by a claim from eight fishing states that their fishermen have a historical right to access to the seas around Britain dating back to the 1400s.
They are insisting that any Brexit deal recognises the right of their fleets to continue to exploit many shared stocks of species including cod, herring, mackerel, plaice and sand eel.
The development suggests that leaving the EU will not reap all of the dividends to Britain promised by prominent leave campaigners.
EU Officials said that 40% of their fishermen’s annual take is from waters within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone around Britain and in consequence their coastal fishing communities are almost entirely economically dependent on access to UK waters.
They estimate that a loss of access to British waters would lead to a reduction of about 50% in European fleets’ net profit and the loss of 6,000 full-time jobs.
The strength of the EU “claim of right” is supported by the UN convention on the, “law of the sea”, to which the UK and EU countries are signatories, which instructs states to respect the “traditional fishing rights” of adjacent countries within sovereign waters.
The quota system currently in place within the EU is evidence of a historical right of access since they are firmly based on fishing patterns in place well before the existence of the EU.
A senior EU fishing policy negotiator said: “We have a common sea basin where we can fish. We have always had that.
The British claim of getting back their waters is a nonsense, because they never had them in the first place.
The waters might well be British but fish are transient and belong to no-one. (The Guardian)
10 May 2017: Tory duplicity on Fishing policy post brexit
The Tory policy on fishing, post Brexit is becoming clear.
In a letter to British fishermen’s leaders the Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom suggested Tories were: “committed to ongoing cooperation with other countries over the management of shared stocks “.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “The cat is now out of the bag – while Ruth Davidson was recently in the North-east maintaining the pretence that the Tories were the Scottish fishermen’s friends, her Westminster bosses were plotting a gigantic sell-out.” (The Express)
“Fishing for Freedom: Lessons for Britain from Iceland’s fisheries experience”,
the analysis of an Icelandic expert based on his country’s experiences right back to the Cod Wars of the 1970s indicates that the UK should follow the example of its northern neighbours Iceland and Norway when it comes to managing fisheries – because they have been far more successful than the EU at conserving stocks and sustaining coastal communities.
Extracted comments from the analysis:
“The experience of Iceland and Norway emphasises the importance of having full authority over the fishing sector, the importance of sustainable and responsible management and of keeping the domestic fishing grounds, as a general rule for local fishermen for the benefit of the whole country”.
“Britain, post Brexit, as a sovereign country, will have an absolute and undisputed right to a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or the median line under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)”.
“Traditional fishing rights, real or purported, of other countries cannot override the Convention, otherwise no country would ever risk allowing fishing vessels from other countries to fish its waters.”
“Consequently, the EU and its member states have no legal arguments for demands to continue fishing in British waters as before. And they are very well aware of that”.
The British people both have strong conservation arguments on their side, like Iceland during the Cod Wars in the latter half of the 20th century, due to the failures of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) but also the sovereign right to a 200-mile EEZ which is today guaranteed by international law”.
“Leaving the EU offers the British government a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fundamentally rethink the way British fisheries are managed, with a long-term view of how the sector may prosper in the future, taking note of the best practices of other countries and ensuring sustainability and the creation of valuable British jobs.”
A Scottish Fishermen’s Federation spokesman said: “These are exactly the arguments we have been making to our governments, and what better validation of them than the experience of those fisheries nations outside the EU and its disastrous CFP. Iceland and Norway have different but successful fisheries management regimes and a much better record for sustainability – that is what we must insist upon for our indigenous industry.” (SFF)
2 Jul 2017: UK to ‘take back control’ of waters after exiting fishing convention
Michael Gove announced withdrawal from the 1964 “London Fisheries Convention” which allows vessels from the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands to fish within six nautical miles of each other’s coastlines. Interviewed by Andrew Barr he said:
“When we leave the European Union we will become an independent political state and that means that we can then extend control of our waters up to 200 miles or the median line between Britain and France, and Britain and Ireland.
One critical thing about the common fisheries policy is that it has been an environmental disaster.
And one of the reasons we want to change it is that we want to ensure that we can have sustainable fish stocks for the future … I think it’s important that we recognise that leaving the European Union is going to help the environment.” (SFF)
2 Jul 2017: The World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace Offer a View
The head of campaigns at WWF, said:
“Achieving sustainable fishing is about much more than which country fishes where. It is about ensuring that fishermen use the right fishing gear, that fishing takes place at levels that maintain sustainable stocks and that we pioneer ways to monitor what is happening at sea in order to understand the impacts of fishing.
Leaving the EU means we could get these things right, but we will still need to cooperate with our neighbours, as fish do not recognise lines on a map.” (SFF)
Greenpeace UK’s head of oceans, said:
“For years, successive UK governments have blamed Brussels for their own failure to support the small-scale, sustainable fishers who are the backbone of our fishing fleet.
If Brexit is to herald a better future for our fishers, the Conservative party manifesto must honour the commitment to rebalance fishing quotas in favour of ‘small-scale, specific locally-based fishing communities’.”
A consultant at the environmental law firm ClientEarth, describing the move as a negotiating tactic, said:
“As a country outside the EU, we need to consider how we can best cooperate with our neighbours rather than unilaterally withdrawing from all agreements in the hope that standing alone will make us better.
Many fish stocks in UK waters are shared with our neighbours and so need cooperation and shared management.” (SFF)
3 Aug 2017: EU fishing boats can still operate in UK waters after Brexit
Gove, who was made environment secretary after June’s election, told the Danish fishing industry that Britain does not have the capacity to catch and process all the fish in British waters and thus boats from EU nations would be allowed continued access post-Brexit.
His comments prompted complaints from the Lib Dems and SNP that the government’s stance on the issue was confused.
Gove had previously said Britain was “taking back control” of its fisheries by departing from the EU common fisheries policy, which lets member states fish between 12 and 200 nautical miles off the UK’s coastline.
He also announced Britain’s withdrawal from the London fisheries convention, signed before the Britain joined the EU, which lets vessels from Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands fish within between six and 12 nautical miles of each other’s coasts.
A Defra spokeswoman said the issue was that the UK would be able to control which foreign ships fished within its territory. “Leaving the EU means we will take back control of our territorial waters,” she said. “As we have always said, other countries will be able to access our waters – but for the first time in 50 years it will be on our terms and under our control. “We will allocate quotas on the basis of what is scientifically sustainable, making sure we have a healthy marine environment and profitable fishing industry in the UK.”
Friday 15 September 2017: Overfishing in the North Sea to be curtailed by EU
The European parliament has voted on a series of measures reducing overfishing in the North Sea. The vote imposes limits to fishing quotas so that they cannot exceed levels regarded as sustainable by scientists. The North Sea is one of Europe’s biggest fishing grounds, especially for key commercial species such as cod and haddock.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Britain welcomes the vote on the North Sea Multi-Annual Plan which aims to secure the long-term sustainability of North Sea fish stocks and provide stability for fishermen in the region.
As we leave the European Union, we will continue to work closely with our neighbours to champion sustainable fishing.
Once we have taken back control of our waters, we will be able to ensure our fish stocks are managed more sustainably while also helping the UK fishing industry to thrive.
The multi-annual plan has the potential to end overfishing in the North Sea and provide healthy stocks and productive fisheries.
It is now the responsibility of EU fisheries ministers to make urgent progress in delivering it.”
15 September 2017: The Multi-Annual Fishery Plan
The plan, recently approved by the EU, at last curtails damaging political interference, introducing from 2018, scientific management of EU fishing stocks.
At present, more than 40% of fish stocks in the North Sea – the most productive sea in Europe – are overfished.
Scientists estimate that if managed sustainably, stocks could produce an additional 1.45m tonnes of fish a year within the next 10 years.
Key species could fare well under a stock protection programme, meaning catches of cod and haddock could be increased fourfold within a decade.
Britain leaving the (CFP) could bring with it increased pressure on fish stocks as sustainability targets agreed by the EU would no longer be binding on Britain, and EU fisheries ministers would come under pressure from their domestic fishing fleets to allow greater catches in order to compete with the UK.
Environmental groups fear that the steady progress towards recovering fisheries stocks, hard won over the last two decades, could be wiped out in such a scenario. (The Guardian)
If wise council prevails Britain will retain full membership of the EU common fisheries policy (CFP).
Seas are sub-divided simply by drawing a line on a map but fish belong to no-one.
Reflecting on personal experience a while back, in the North Sea we identified a potential catch near to the Scottish-Norwegian sea boundary.
Unwilling to give up the chase the skipper pursued and caught up with the target.
We returned home happy and well paid for our time away.
The primary catch was completed 20 miles inside Norwegian waters, which was legal. The EU has an agreement in place with Norway. A tangible benefit of the (CFP)
The Scottish fishermen’s leadership is comprised of very rich individuals whose political allegiance is tied to the Tory party regardless of any adverse effects which could be visited upon 5000 Scottish fishermen and their dependents should Britain divorce itself completely from the (CFP)
An uncertain future, without or with at best, a much restricted access to the EU market would bring great hardship to the Scottish Fishery, without any guarantee of new markets in the long term.
All of the foregoing coupled with the added disadvantage that control of their destiny is still dependent on Westminster governments whose support of Scottish Fisheries has been so appalling for so long.
If Scottish Fishermen really wish to establish control of their own destiny they should abandon any policy which ties their future to Westminster whose first commitment is always to protect the English fishing market.
Scottish independence is the way forward for Scottish Fisheries. Independence will ensure decisions about fishing policy will always be arrived at with the full support of and in the interests of Scottish fishermen.