The Royal Navy, Brexit and UK fisheries

The Royal Navy is boosting its fishery patrol fleet ahead of the UK’s exit from the European Union. Altercations between British and French scallop fishermen off the coast of France last autumn – which prompted calls for the Navy to step in – have cast light on the Navy’s Fishery Protection Squadron (FPS). Here we explain what the FPS is and developments underway.

So what is the Fishery Protection Squadron?

The Royal Navy’s FPS patrols the UK’s Extended Fisheries Zone. The squadron enforces fishery protection laws by patrolling the British fishery limits and conducting inspections of fishing vessels.

The Squadron is responsible for inspecting fishing vessels in the offshore waters of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Marine Scotland is responsible for patrolling the waters off the Scottish coast because fishery protection is a devolved matter. Scotland had a dedicated Royal Navy vessel until 1999.

Whilst predominantly used for fisheries protection, the Navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) do perform other tasks such as counter-piracy, counter-smuggling, counter-terrorism, border control and humanitarian/disaster relief.

What were the ‘Scallop Wars’?

Altercations between French and British fishermen off the coast of France in August/September 2018 were dubbed ‘the Scallop Wars’, recalling the ‘Cod Wars’ of the 1960s and ‘70s.

Amid calls to send in the Fishery Protection Squadron, the Government said the Bay of Seine is the responsibility of the French authorities and the Fishery Protection Squadron is unable to enter the waters of another country without invitation, except in very limited circumstances. These are: the protection of life at sea in the event of there being a threat to life, or through the right of innocent passage to enable vessels to transit through an area without interference.

How many patrol boats does the squadron have now?

For years the Squadron operated four River-class OPVs. Three were based in the UK and the fourth, HMS Clyde, was permanently based in the South Atlantic as the Falkland Islands patrol vessel.

In 2013 the Government unexpectedly announced it was buying three new batch-2 River-class OPVs. This was to sustain work in BAE Systems’ shipyards until work began on the new Type 26 frigates. A further two were ordered in 2016.

At the time of writing, the squadron numbers four OPVs. The three batch-1s HMS Clyde, Tyne and Mersey, and the first of the new batch-2s, HMS Forth. The four remaining Batch 2’s should be in service by the end of 2020.

What about post-Brexit?

Original plans (announced in two written question responses in December 2015 and January 2017) were to decommission the four batch-1 OPVs and replace them with the five new batch-2 vessels. However, in November 2018 the Defence Secretary announced that three Offshore Patrol Vessels will be retained in service for at least two more years, “to bolster the UK’s ability to protect our fishing fleet” as the UK exits the EU. HMS Tyne, Mersey and Severn will be retained for at least two years and will forward-operate from their namesake rivers (from Newcastle, Liverpool and the Cardiff area respectively). Their base port remains Portsmouth.

This will be funded from the £12.7m pot of money awarded to the MoD in 2018-19 by the Treasury as part of its funding for departments to “realise the opportunities from EU exit.”

HMS SEVERN was decommissioned in 2017. The MoD told the Library the ship is currently in Falmouth undergoing a refit as part of the process to re-join the fleet. It will be recommissioned in due course and is in the process of being brought back into service.

What’s the difference between the two classes of OPVs?

The most obvious difference with the new batch is that they have a flight deck for a Merlin-sized helicopter. Of the batch-1s, only HMS Clyde has a helicopter landing pad. The Navy has said they’re faster, carry a bigger gun, and can accommodate up to 50 troops/Royal Marines.

Where are the new vessels being built?

All five OPVs are being built in Scotland at BAE Systems’ yards on the Clyde. The contracts were placed on a single source basis with BAE Systems under the 2009 Terms of Business Agreement.

Government policy on naval procurement has changed since the contracts were originally signed in 2013 and 2016. In the future, contracts for OPVs will, like all non-warships, “be subject to international competition, providing there are no compelling national security reasons to constrain a particular procurement to national providers.”

Further reading

Fisheries Management in the UK, House of Commons Library.

The Fisheries Bill 2017-19, House of Commons Library.

Fisheries: Brexit Negotiations, House of Commons Library.

UK Sea Fisheries Statistics, House of Commons Library.

UK Fisheries Management, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

The National Shipbuilding Strategy: January 2018 update, House of Commons Library.

Louisa Brooke-Holland is a Senior Library Clerk in the House of Commons Library, specialising in defence.

Photo: HMS Severn HMS Tyne and HMS Mersey on Fishery Protection Squadron Exercise / Crown Copyright.

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