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The UK will continue to be bound by the requirements of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and how they relate to the management of fisheries in any Brexit outcome. This includes an obligation to co-operate with other coastal states on the management of shared stocks or stocks of associated species. The Fisheries White Paper Sustainable fisheries for future generations, published in July 2018, set out the Government’s intention to continue to co-operate closely with the EU and other coastal states on the sustainable management of fish stocks that cross borders.

The Fisheries Bill (2017-2019), which did not make any progress beyond Committee stage in the House of Commons, included powers for the Government to set and distribute fishing opportunities, and exclude foreign vessels from UK waters. In addition, the Government brought over into UK legislation a number of EU regulations on fisheries under the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 aimed at ensuring a continuation of existing rules on Brexit day. The Government has stated that in the absence of a Fisheries Act it would be able to set fishing opportunities for the UK using prerogative powers.

Fisheries negotiations

The negotiated EU Withdrawal Agreement included the provision that the UK would be bound by the Commons Fisheries Policy until the end of any transition period. The agreement on the backstop provisions for Norther Ireland included that free movement of fishery and aquaculture products would not be included in any backstop customs arrangements for the whole of the UK “unless an agreement on access to waters and fishing opportunities is applicable between the Union and the United Kingdom”. The Political Declaration sets out that any fisheries agreement should be in place for the first year after the transition period and included a target date for ratifying any fisheries agreement of 1 July 2020. There were no significant changes in relation to fisheries in the new Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration agreed in October 2019

Fisheries and No Deal

A no deal brexit would have an immediate impact on access to fishing grounds for both EU and UK flagged vessels. There would also be an impact on trade in fish products which would be subject to a range of tariffs when exporting to the EU and could be affected by any customs delays. In addition, the UK would be responsible for patrolling and enforcing the exclusion of foreign vessels within the UK EEZ and negotiating yearly fishing agreements on shared stocks with neighbouring countries. UK fishing vessels’ quota allocations for 2019 would not immediately change unless the fishing authorities decide to make amendments, as it is already a UK competence.

A continuity agreement with Norway to the end of 2019 was signed by the UK Government in September 2019

Further reading

For further information please see the Commons Briefing Paper on Management on Fisheries in the UK. For a briefing on the Fisheries Bill please see the Commons Briefing Paper on the Fisheries Bill 2017-2019. For further detail of the Brexit negotiations as whole please see Commons Briefing Papers on Brexit.

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