UK set to take control of its waters – but ready to co-operate on management

A draft white paper detailing post-Brexit management ideas for UK fishing indicates that the discard ban will remain A draft white paper detailing post-Brexit management ideas for UK fishing indicates that the discard ban will remain

The UK Government will put sustainable fisheries and marine conservation at the heart of its fisheries management regime after Brexit. It says adherence to sustainable fishing practices will be a pre-condition of any future access to UK waters for EU countries, reports Tom Ainsworth.

The UK government also stresses that it will be up to the UK to decide who can fish in its territorial waters and how much they can catch after Brexit. It is seeking an increased share of some TACs.

This is spelled out in a draft version of a leaked discussion paper (White Paper) the UK government’s fisheries department (DEFRA) has prepared that is due to be published soon. Seen by World Fishing, the document sets out the department’s thinking on how it will manage fisheries in the UK’s 200-mile/median line zone after Brexit.

Although the UK is set to leave the EU and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and legally become an independent coastal state on 29 March 2019, the recently agreed Brexit 21-month transition deal means the current CFP and all current quota shares and access arrangements will remain in force until 1 January 2021.

The UK fishing industry had been calling for fisheries to be excluded from the transition deal and has accused the UK Government of ‘betrayal’ by agreeing to no change in the EU fisheries status quo for another 21 months.

But the deal has been warmly welcomed by the European Fisheries Alliance (EUFA) of nine EU countries with fishing interests in the region that are fighting to retain the status quo indefinitely.

In its draft White Paper, DEFRA says it aims to build “a vibrant and sustainable UK fishing industry” when it takes responsibility for managing fisheries resources within its own waters.

Brexit means the UK will become an independent coastal state under international law (UNCLOS) and will control all access to and management of UK waters out to 200 nautical miles or the median line. But also in line with UNCLOS “we will also co-operate closely with the EU and other coastal states on the management of transboundary stocks”, says the draft paper.

The UK will apply to be an independent member of regional fisheries management organisations, including the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) “where we will pursue our interests in negotiations on important stocks such as mackerel and herring.”

The UK will also play an active role in other international bodies such as the FAO.

Stressing the UK Government’s commitment to sustainable fishing, the draft document says: “The UK will champion sustainable fisheries and marine conservation and will project British values in negotiations with our neighbours, making adherence to sustainable practices a pre-condition of any future access to UK waters.”

It will continue to apply the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) principle when setting or agreeing TACs and will promote fishing within MSY ranges in future negotiations.

It will also continue with the landing obligation/discards ban to end “the shameful practice” of discarding and will consider the introduction of new technical measures such as remote electronic monitoring (REM) using on board cameras on vessels fishing in the UK's EEZ to ensure compliance with UK fisheries regulation.

The draft White Paper will be followed by a new UK Fisheries Bill that will include proposals for the UK government to take powers to control all access within UK waters and to set and allocate fishing opportunities, mainly quotas.

The British Government is also preparing to meet “the different enforcement challenges in our waters when we leave the EU” and has in fact recently taken delivery of the first of five new fisheries and border patrol boats, HMS Forth.

As well as the CFP continuing for almost two years after Brexit through the transition deal, the UK Government will also incorporate all EU law (the aquis) – including all CFP regulations – into UK law after Brexit through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. These laws will then be gradually modified or scrapped over time. They include the existing EU technical measures which include 89 sets of regulations covering issues such as gear types, mesh sizes and minimum landing sizes.

The UK will “depart from the principle of relative stability and secure additional quota shares through international agreements”. The draft paper says that under the CFP “the UK does not receive a fair allocation of fishing opportunities. Our fleet catches approximately 100,000 tonnes of fish from the EU's EEZ but the EU catches over 750,000 tonnes of fish from UK waters. We will seek a more equitable system with fairer share of TACs for the UK fleet in future”. The paper adds: “It is in both our interests to reach a mutually beneficial deal that works for the UK and the EU's fishing communities.”

After Brexit and the UK becoming a legal independent coastal state “it will be for the UK to decide who has access to fish in UK waters”. But it wants to act as a responsible coastal state and “work closely with our European neighbours to develop a new, fairer basis for the allocation of fishing opportunities”.

After initial annual negotiations the UK wants a longer term approach to sharing fishing opportunities which would update the current sharing arrangements “to make sure they represent a fair share of fishing opportunities for the UK and the EU”.

It aims to set up a new working group to review the current mechanism for sharing fishing opportunities and look at “fairer methodologies to agree future quota shares based on zonal attachment and/or catch history”. These negotiations will also involve access to UK waters.

In terms of how the UK will manage its fisheries internally after Brexit the paper says the aim is to manage its fisheries resources as “a shared resource, a public asset held in stewardship for the benefit of all”.

It will also trial the use of effort control rather than quotas in the demersal fisheries as an alternative way to manage the mixed species fisheries found in UK waters.

The paper says it will be “vital” for sustainable exploitation to work closely with the EU and other coastal states including Norway and Faroe to manage transboundary stocks, including through agreeing TACs, access and shares of fishing opportunities.

It also confirms that the UK Government gave notice on 3 July 2017 to withdraw from the 1964 London Fisheries Convention (LFC) which gives some access to vessels from France, Ireland, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands to the UK 6-12 nautical mile zone. Withdrawal requires two years notice.

The draft paper also confirms the UK will renew its international obligations through organisations such as UNCLOS, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the WTO.

“The Government is committed to seeking a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, including the best possible deal for fisheries, including the shellfish, processing and aquaculture sectors, while ensuring that consumers continue to have a wide choice of high-quality food products at affordable prices. We are also committed to seek continuity in current trade and investment relationships, including those covered by EU third country free trade agreements and preferential arrangements, as well as to secure access to new markets globally.” ​​

Brexit will give the UK government an opportunity for fundamental reform of its internal management arrangements.

For ideas on what shape this will take, DEFRA will look at “best practice” from other nations with important fishing industries such as Iceland and New Zealand, where “industry works in closer partnership with government while making a greater financial contribution”.

A ‘national reserve’ of quota may be set up with new allocation criteria. These could include “placing a value on fish as a sustainable natural resource and raising revenue from the new opportunity”.

“We would work with industry and stakeholders to examine a range of ways to distribute any new fishing opportunities, which may include auctioning or tendering, considering the wider potential benefits.”

To tackle the discards problem, one measure being considered is an 'incentive' charge on fish caught in excess of quota allowances such as is used in countries such as Iceland and Norway.

“The charge, if introduced, would create a financial incentive to comply with the landing obligation and minimise wasteful discarding. Where fishers are unable to find quota to set against their catch they would be required to pay a charge that was, at least, equivalent to the catch's commercial value (with an allowance for handling costs).

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