Brexit provides unique opportunity for UK fishermen

The fishing industry has heard that the result of the EU referendum has provided the sector with a “once-in-a-generation opportunity for radical change”. 

This was the message conveyed by UK fisheries minister George Eustice (pictured) as he addressed a room full of fishermen at the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation’s (NFFO) annual general meeting in London. The gathering, which took place on Thursday, 8 September, was the first opportunity that UK fishermen had to directly address the minister since the outcome of the referendum was made known.

Upon leaving the Union, the UK will also be leaving the Common Fisheries Policy. Eustice told the delegation that the industry now had “an opportunity to go back to first principles” and to design arrangements that are specifically tailored to UK fleets and fisheries. He labelled the Common Fisheries Policy as rigid and incapable of producing the responsive, adaptive approach required to manage modern, complex and diverse fisheries.

While negotiating the departure of the EU is still uncertain, Eustice said that leaving would provide opportunities to renegotiate the UK’s quota shares and access arrangements while still keeping access to European markets. He emphasised that Britain would be leading all aspects of negotiations while consulting with the devolved administrations.

Although the UK is presented with the opportunity to rethink its policies, Eustice did highlight that some areas of the Common Fisheries Policy should be retained. These include a commitment to maximum sustainable yield and some form of landing obligation. All members of the industry have been invited to submit their ideas on changes that they would like to see implemented to guide future UK policies.

Next week, a round-table discussion will be led by secretary of state for the environment and fisheries, Andrea Leadsom, in which the NFFO intends on being a leading voice.

“We expect to be closely engaged with Defra officials in working on the detail of our exit strategy from the EU,” said the NFFO’s chief executive Barrie Deas. “Our internal preparations for that engagement are well-advanced, with contributions from all of the federation’s diverse interests invited, sector by sector, and these will be incorporated into the final document for Department for Exiting the EU (Dexeu) and Defra.”

The federation has already met with David Davis, the minister responsible for exiting the EU.

“The feeling from our executive and from the AGM was that the NFFO has made a very good start in positioning itself for the Brexit negotiations,” continued Deas. “The early meeting with David Davis and the scope of working closely with Dexeu and Defra provide us with a perhaps-unique opportunity. However, this is the start of the process and Brexit negotiations will take a minimum of two years. It will be an ongoing challenge to ensure that fishing remains close to the top of the UK’s negotiating priorities. The federation is fully engaged in that task.

“The minister’s view that Brexit is an opportunity to go back to first principles is very welcome. The Common Fisheries Policy has shown itself to be inflexible and over-centralised, and Brexit offers the opportunity to design and implement an approach tailored to the contours of our fleets and our fisheries.”

According to the NFFO, over the past few decades the British fishing industry has worked to successfully improve sustainability in its fishing methods and the health of stocks in the waters it fishes in.

The federation said that the majority of commercial fishing stocks were now at a level consistent with Maximum Sustainable Yield, meaning that levels are sustainable and also deliver high, long-term yields without jeopardising the future sustainability of stocks.

The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee will continue its short inquiry into Brexit and UK fisheries policy on Wednesday, 14 September where it will question Eustice and representatives from Norway and Iceland.

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