The collapse of talks on a fishing quota deal with Norway has exposed the vulnerability of the UK’s fishing industry and left it in a weaker position than when the UK was in the EU, fishing leaders have said.
The prospect of better opportunities for UK fishermen after exiting the Common Fisheries Policy was one of the most potent arguments for Brexit campaigners both before and after the 2016 referendum on EU membership.
The UK has clawed back some of its available stock under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, which was ratified by the European Parliament earlier this week. Under the deal, 25% of the previous EU quota in UK waters will be transferred to the UK over a five-and-a-half year period which concludes in June 2026, with specific percentages of annually agreed Total Allowable Catches (TACs) agreed for each fishing stock. Mutual access to each other’s waters will be through a licencing system for fishing vessels.
After 2026, future negotiations between the EU and UK on access and share of stocks will take place on an annual basis, although provisions exist for multi-annual agreements.
In the meantime, outside of the EU and the CFP, the UK must negotiate its own agreements with Norway and other countries whose fishing fleets operate in the North Sea and Arctic Sea, including Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. No deals have been agreed for 2021.
Talks between the UK and Norway on a new fishing agreement collapsed on Thursday (29 April), with ministers claiming that the Oslo government had rejected a “fair offer” for a quota system.
The two governments had agreed last year to a post-Brexit system including annual negotiations on quotas and access to each other’s waters. However, talks on quotas for 2021 were delayed for several months when the TCA, which EU and UK negotiators had initially hoped to conclude by the autumn, was only finally concluded on Christmas Eve but were unable to broker an annual deal for 2021.
The result is that UK fleets will have no access to Norway’s sub-Arctic waters, known for their cod catches. Norway will also lose access to UK fishing waters for the remainder of this year.
One trawler, operated by a firm run by UK Fisheries chief executive Jayne Sandell, which catches 10% of fish sold in chip shops across the UK, will be tied up for a year following the collapse in talks.
Sandell described the failure to secure a Norway deal as “a very black day for Britain”.
She added that Boris Johnson’s government “owes our crews and the Humberside region an explanation as to why Defra was unable even to maintain the rights we have had to fish in Norwegian waters for decades, never mind land the boasts of a ‘Brexit bonus’, which has turned to disaster”.
“We put forward a fair offer on access to UK waters and the exchange of fishing quotas, but we have concluded that our positions remain too far apart to reach an agreement this year,” said a spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).