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There were 4,000 businesses in the fishing industry in 2016. These businesses employed 24,000 people and contributed £1.4 billion to the UK economy in terms of Gross Value Added (GVA – a measure similar to GDP). The fish processing and preserving part of the industry employed more people than the fishing part of the industry – 15,000 compared with 8,000. But the processing industry was less significant in terms of overall economic output and involved fewer businesses. Further details on the fisheries industry and fisheries statistics are available in Commons Library Briefing on the UK fisheries Industry, published December 2017.

Common Fisheries Policy

Fisheries in the UK and EU are currently managed under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which aims to ensure that fishing is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable, whilst allowing fair competition between fishers. The European Commission’s aim is that that between 2015 and 2020 catch limits should be set that are sustainable and maintain fish stocks in the long term. Under the CFP, every year, the European Commission proposes a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for each commercial species for each area within the EU 200-mile limit. TACs are then shared between EU countries in the form of national quotas. The TACs for each area are agreed by the Council of Ministers at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, based on scientific advice on sustainable catch levels. The Postnote on UK Fisheries Management provides further detail of how fishing quotas are currently set and managed at EU and UK level.

A Fisheries Bill

The UK Government has made clear that new legislation will be required to replace the Commons Fisheries Policy, setting out how the UK will manage its fisheries within its 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). A Fisheries Bill was announced in the 2017 Queen’s Speech, which would “enable the UK to control access to its waters and set UK fishing quotas once it has left the EU.” A Defra press release announcing the Bill stated that during 2017 there would be a period of engagement with the devolved administrations, industry and the public with the aim of delivering the best outcome for the UK industry.

Brexit transition

There is ongoing debate amongst stakeholders about when the UK should leave the CFP, and whether it should be included in a Brexit transition period. Recent reports suggest that the EU position is that it should be included, and that the UK would not be able to participate in an official capacity in any quota setting during that period. There are also a range of views on to what degree the current quota allocation and management approach should be changed, as set out in the UK Fisheries Industry debate pack. Any changes will have to take into account the UK commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and how it applies to the sharing of fisheries resources.

A White Paper was expected to precede the Bill but has not yet been published. Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, published in February 2018, provided some detail of the Government’s aims for a sustainable fisheries policy after Brexit, based on a natural capital approach, which allows for sustainable fisheries, whilst protecting and enhancing the marine environment.

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