EU to hold Britain to fishing quotas during Brexit transition

Exclusive: EU’s plan means UK would essentially be leaving common fisheries policy in name only after Brexit

The EU will resist any renegotiation of fishing quotas in the seas around the UK for the proposed two-year transition period after Brexit, the Guardian has learned.

Brussels diplomats are agreed that Britain should effectively remain governed by the EU’s common fisheries policy during the transition but should not have a role in deciding the size of catches elsewhere in Europe.

Michael Gove claimed last year that the UK would “take back control” of its waters after Brexit by exiting the common fisheries policy (CFP), which gives member states fishing rights between 12 and 200 nautical miles off the UK’s coastline.

The environment secretary reportedly told the cabinet in October that the quotas on every type of fish, from herring to crabs, lobsters and cold-water prawns, should be renegotiated with Norway and the EU before Brexit.

“We notice Gove hasn’t repeated that recently. Perhaps he has been reined in, because it isn’t going to happen,” said one EU diplomat.

Gerard van Balsfoort, the chair of the European Fisheries Alliance, the group lobbying on behalf of EU fishermen in the Brexit negotiations, said he was confident the UK would not be successful in persuading the 27 member states to change their position over the coming months.

The fishing quotas for each member state, described by the UK’s farming minister, George Eustice, last year as “unfair”, were fixed in 1983 on the basis of the recorded catches of the various national fleets between 1973 and 1978.

Member states negotiate annually between themselves the total amount of fish to be taken from the seas, species by species, but each country’s allocation within the total allowable catch does not change.

The EU 27 want to strike a bilateral deal before Brexit, potentially spanning the entirety of the transition period, on the total size of the catch taken out of UK seas.

But EU diplomats are agreed there should be no meddling with the predetermined quotas that have caused such anger in British fishing communities. The UK would also have no role in deciding the total catches in EU seas after Brexit.

The EU’s plan means Britain would essentially be leaving the CFP in name only, senior EU diplomats concede. The issue was discussed at a meeting of diplomats in Brussels on Wednesday and will be discussed again next week.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishing Federation, said it would be “absolutely unacceptable” for the UK to be kept in the CFP framework over a two-year transition period.

He said it was likely that fishing policy for 2019 would remain the same. Catch levels for the entire year will be decided in December this year while the UK is still in the bloc.

However, Armstrong said the industry was adamant that it would be the landlord and would have a say over what “the tenants” do in British waters.

“The world will change on 29 March. We will be out of CFP, the UK becomes a coastal state and will have complete sovereignty over who has access to our waters,” he said. “Assumption of control does not mean complete rejection of negotiation, and a nine-month bridge covering the remainder of 2018 would be in order. A two-year transition period where nothing changes is neither required nor acceptable.”

The Scottish fishing community has been lobbying for a 21% increase in the UK’s share of the total North Sea cod quota.

According to recent estimates, 33% of the catches of the rest of the European fishing fleet are caught in the UK’s exclusive economic zone.

Fishing was a battleground issue during the EU referendum campaign, culminating in clash of rival flotillas on the Thames led by Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof.

In July Gove announced that as part of its withdrawal from pan-European arrangements, the UK would leave the 1964 London fisheries convention, which allows vessels from Britain, Belgium, Ireland, France, Germany and the Netherlands to fish within 12 nautical miles of each other’s coastlines.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We remain committed to leaving the Common Fisheries Policy and developing arrangements for fishing that can create a more profitable and self-sufficient seafood sector.

“As we leave the EU, we are working to secure the best deal for the whole of the UK fishing industry.”

Contributors

Daniel Boffey in Brussels and Lisa O'Carroll in London

The GuardianTramp

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