Fishing for a Future
Updated: May 5
A study by the NAFC Marine Centre at the University of the Highlands and Islands
estimates that an average of 58% of fish and shellfish caught in the UK’s water was landed by fishing boats from other EU countries each year between 2012 and 2014.
This is said to represent about 650,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish worth over £400 million each year. In the same period, UK fishing boats were estimated to have landed an average of 90,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth £100 million, caught in other EU member states’ waters each year.
Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)
Under the CFP, all EU member states have equal access to EU waters apart from the first 12 nautical miles from the coast, with 100 fish stocks common to the 28 EU member states. The total number of each species of fish that can be taken from various zones in the EU’s seas each year is settled by the member states on the advice of scientists, to ensure sustainability.
One of the main objectives of the CFP is to ensure high long-term fishing yields (maximum sustainable yield) by 2020 at the latest, with each EU country having a species-by-species quota they can take from that European haul under quotas that have been fixed since 1983 on the basis of the recorded catches of the various national fleets between 1973 and 1978.
According to recent estimates, 33% of the catches of the European fishing fleet are caught in what will soon be claimed as British waters.
Post-Brexit the UK will become an independent coastal state under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and will be obliged to manage the fisheries within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) sustainably. As such, Britain will have control over an “exclusive economic zone” up to 200 nautical miles off its shores – some of the most bountiful seas in the world.
With the North Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel and Eastern Atlantic included in this, the fishing industry becomes a key metric by which to judge the effectiveness of Brexit.
Source: Sustainable fisheries for future generations (July 2018)
In January 2020, the Fisheries Bill removed the automatic right of EU vessels to fish in UK waters (although a future deal could give them access again) and enshrined in law that fishing within UK waters has to take place within sustainable limits. The main points of this bill are:
EU vessels’ automatic access right to fish in UK waters is removed
Foreign boats will be required to be licensed to fish in UK waters and will have to follow the UK’s rules
Fisheries are managed in a sustainable way - balancing social, economic, and employment benefits while preventing the over exploitation of fish stocks
The UK fisheries administrations will seek to ensure increased benefits from fish caught by UK boats
Sensitive marine species, such as dolphins, are protected and the by-catch of unwanted fish reduced
The UK fisheries administrations will continue to collect robust scientific data on fish stocks and shares it to manage shared stocks sustainably
UK boats can continue to access any part of UK waters, as they do now regardless, whether they are registered in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland
Source: The Fisheries Bill 2017-2019
Though this looks promising on paper, the underlying complexity of the legislation surrounding maritime activity within the EU is a complex minefield, requiring sensitive collaboration to achieve the above outcome - Over 1000 current laws relevant to fisheries are thought to be involved. When combined with wider marine environmental legislation the picture becomes even more complicated (the below giving some insight into the legislative web):
Source: Brexit: The marine governance horrendogram (2016)
With agreement of the Fisheries Bill due in July 2020, concessions are likely to and should be made. The stance of the new chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Fisheries (PECH) supports this, with the Renew Europe MEP Pierre Karleskind called for a fisheries agreement with the UK that recreates the current situation whereby EU fishermen can have access to British waters and UK seafood can be sold on the Single Market. “It is really important to bear in mind that the UK has fish, but Europe has the market,” he said, adding that the existence of mutual benefits from the status quo should be used as a tool during the negotiations.
Statements such as this warrant a firm approach from strong leadership, backed up by substance to ensure a fairer future for UK fishing - for example the allocation of quotas or levies. However, given Karleskind’s background as an Oceanographer, hopefully his conservationist understanding weighs influence upon his political stance.
Given the various UK agencies, departments and directives (e.g. DEFRA and the Marine Management Organisation, in England), transparency and engagement are vital to ensure both a top-down and bottom-up approach is considered to deliver the best outcome possible for the UK post-Brexit, considering local fisherman, larger national corporations, NGOs and Government - all need to collaborate to achieve viable, ecological targets which holistically address the needs of those involved and the wider economy.
A key parallel consideration is the Government’s 25 year Environmental Plan, encompassing the following concerning our seas:
reversing the loss of marine biodiversity and, where practicable, restoring it
increasing the proportion of protected and well-managed seas, and better managing existing protected sites
making sure populations of key species are sustainable with appropriate age structures
ensuring seafloor habitats are productive and sufficiently extensive to support healthy, sustainable ecosystems
Source: UK Govt 25 year Environmental Plan
These commonalities are addressed (to an extent) within the UK Fisheries Bill and for us, should be the cornerstone of what success is measured against. Obviously the delivery is vastly complex and interwoven with a myriad of other economic and politic factors, however this is prospectively a good stance for people to support, understand and by which to drive sustainable change.
To facilitate this, we've highlighted a few opportunities beyond 2020:
Of regulations, education, employment and conservation - the future is already beginning to look vastly different than we could have imagined in 2019, therefore there is an opportunity to empower local communities, led by their regional government and experts to invest in local areas and coastal communities.
If we can have an improved measure of control of our resources (in this case our seas), we can revitalise an industry through job opportunities - encouraging the education, training and up-skilling of the local workforce to become involved in the fishing industry - the main English ports for example are Brixham, Plymouth and Newlyn, which would all benefit from an improved industry, as a whole community.
This can be supported by regulation - enforcing quotas, catch-limits and sustainable fishing across all vessel sizes (In 2017, the UK fishing fleet was made up of 6,148 registered vessels. Just under 80% of the UK fleet are 10m and under). By providing greater opportunities for these smaller, inshore boats, these catches can stay local and support local, increasing their market share and as a result, support sustainability as a product of their limited haul capabilities.
By meeting our needs locally, we can improve the diversity of our regions - we can learn to become resilient and re-create the local identities with which these towns were previously associated and hopefully prosper once again.
Changing consumer behaviour -
A large part of what UK fishing vessels catch is high-value seafood like crabs or langoustines exported to French and Spanish dining tables. UK consumers, who eat much less fish than the French and Spanish, don’t like the high-value fish so much, preferring instead white fish like cod which comes from places like Norway.
The key fish species landed in the UK:
Demersal - Cod, Haddock, Hake
Pelagic - Whiting, Mackerel, Hering
Shellfish - Cockles, Crabs, Nephrops (Langoustines), Scallops
Source: UK Fisheries Statistics
Consumption transformation is inevitable - we are consuming resources at a faster rate than they can be replenished and with fishing, this depletes resources more quickly due catch size limits. If we can continue our social education of living within our means and eat seasonally (Cod for example are more plentiful in Autumn, whilst Bass appear inshore in the Summer), we can help sustain fish stocks and improve our year-round capabilities. Not so long ago, we didn’t consume Hake or Haddock, but these are now staples alternatives to Cod - there is no reason other fish stocks can’t become so too. Embrace sea-food and learn to eat differently -a message conveyed by www.seafish.org/promoting-seafood and one we very much support.
The bigger picture however still circles back to, and is underpinned by Climate Change - just half a degree change in ocean temperatures can drive whole species to colder water, instantly reducing the potential of the whole industry. Thus sustainability and fishing go hand-in-hand, so a strong UK position, creates strong, sustainable marine biodiversity going forwards beyond 2020.
Creating this vision of sustainable fishing communities requires effort and buy-in from all involved, but providing people with a choice and a plan will only benefit the industry and society as a whole - let’s hope the Fisheries Bill can put us on the right path.
To borrow and paraphrase our local takeaway therockfish.co.uk - tomorrow’s fish is (hopefully) still in the sea.