Government's Brexit fishing vision revealed - and why it could mean trawlers back in Grimsby

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 4 Jul 2018

Britain is set to take back its fish from the nets of European fishermen after ministers let loose their post-Brexit vision for the fishing industry.

After a seven month delay, the Government's white paper on fisheries – its plan for how fishing will work after leaving the EU – has been released today.

Its terms mark a promise kept from fisheries ministers who have talked since the leave referendum result in 2016 of “taking back control” of British waters.

On board the Ross Tiger

The white paper, Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations , announces that UK trawlers can look forward to being guaranteed more fish and on fairer terms.

The move will be a welcome relief to the industry and to Brexit voters who feared in March, when it was announced that Britain would remain in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) until the end of the transition period in 2020, that fishing rights might be traded away by the Government during its EU trade negotiations.

But the plan, backed by the Prime Minister, environment secretary Michael Gove and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), promises to rid the UK of the CFP and take “full control of its waters”.

In its announcement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the British fishing trade had been on the receiving end of a "poor deal" with the EU - something it hopes to change with the release of its fresh vision for the future.

What you need to know about the fisheries white paper


The white paper promises to make more fish available for Grimsby fishermen (Image: Fay Palmer)

Here the Telegraph’s parliamentary correspondent, Patrick Daly, looks at how fishing rules will differ outside of the EU.

Why will British fishermen have more fish to catch after Brexit?

The UK is currently signed-up to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which treats the seas of all EU member states as a common resource. It means the allowed catch of fish in British waters is currently divided up into quotas and handed out to each EU country by Brussels.

The quota of each fish or seafood species are not divided up equally between the 28 EU states – instead, quota distribution is based on the historic landings brought in by each member’s fishing fleet in 1983. The fisheries white paper says this system will no longer exist after the end of the Brexit transition period in 2020.

What will be different?

First of all, Britain will leave the CFP meaning no common access to British waters for European boats. The UK will re-establish its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and all the fish within it will be Britain’s to decide how to manage. Other countries will have to enter into a negotiation to buy or swap British quota for their fishing fleets.

READ MORE: 'Very few work in the fishing industry BECAUSE of EU' - Tory MP Martin Vickers blasts Labour remainer over Brexit comments

The distribution of quota could also be totally revamped, with the white paper, published on Wednesday July 4, considering allowing ministers to give British fishermen more quota for what is in its waters – a method known as “zonal attachment”.

Fish quota would not be based on the 1983 patterns of North Sea landings but instead be determined by calculating the share of fish based on where it is found.

What does that actually mean?


British fishermen can expect an upturn of native species quota such as whiting, a sustainable North Sea fish

It should mean more fish for British fishermen to go and catch. For example, 88 per cent of all the mature herring in the North Sea falls within the UK’s fishing waters but the UK has the right to catch only 15 per cent of it.

The herring-love Danish and Dutch, on the other hand, each have 17 per cent, meaning most of their fleets are in British waters catching their herring quota. The problem is widespread – currently, EU-registered boats land around eight times as much fish in UK waters than the UK does in EU waters.

Using zonal attachment would see UK fishermen given a much higher percentage of quota. Fishermen could go out and catch it and then export it for sale.

Could the British fishing fleet catch all that extra quota?

Not currently, with its diminished fleet. There is also not the demand for the amount of native fish they would catch – British households rarely deviate from the “big five” of cod, haddock, salmon, tuna and prawns.

READ MORE: Brexit fears remain for future of Grimsby's traditionally smoked haddock

Having more quota could improve the fishing industry’s export profits but it could also give the UK a useful bargaining chip. Some UK vessels will still want access to EU waters – an agreement could be reached if the UK government is willing to hand over British quota of fish such as herring in exchange.

Does this mean the Humber will have its own fishing fleet once again?


The Doreen Rosa trawler sets sail past the dock tower at sunset from the North Wall of Grimsby Docks (Image: Dave Moss)

It certainly opens the door to having trawlers landing regularly into Grimsby again.

There are still a great many obstacles to major fleet returning (the cost of setting up, the dominance of the Scottish fleet, etc) but, if there are wannabe skippers growing up in Grimsby, what the white paper ensures is that there will be fish for them to catch in the North Sea.

Will everything change after Brexit for fishermen?

Not everything. Defra says it continues to be committed to a sustainable fisheries, meaning it will continue with the plan to end the “wasteful” practise of discarding fish, just like the EU has.

READ MORE: Grimsby's fishing industry could see a post-Brexit revival, claims minister on visit to town

An annual statement will be published setting out the health of fish stocks based on the latest scientific evidence. Westminster will work with the devolved nations if stocks are deemed to be “struggling”.

The UK will hold yearly negotiations with countries wanting access to its fishing grounds. It does this currently every December but the difference will be that UK ministers, rather than Brussels officials, will lead the negotiations after 2020, as Norway does in its EU talks.

When will this all happen?

The white paper is set to go out for a 10-week consultation and a Fisheries Bill, which will write the changes into law, will be put before MPs to vote on before next summer.

Any changes will not come into play until the transition period is over. While that is currently scheduled to end on December 31, 2020, there are reports of it being lengthened as the Brexit talks continue to stall.



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