Fish stocks know no human-made boundaries, they migrate freely from one country’s waters to another country’s waters. This migration depends on an array of biological and environmental factors out of our collective control and may differ from year to year depending on the specific state of the marine ecosystem. Therefore, multiple fleets from various countries harvest the same stocks and every country is concerned by its neighbors’ fishing practices. In Europe we are well aware of this reality and this is why we share and jointly manage our fishing grounds and resources.
Some in the United Kingdom have argued that, after Brexit, the UK could exclude non UK fishermen from its 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This ignores the fact that fishermen from many nations have been fishing these waters for centuries – long before the UN convention on the law of the sea allowed States to set out a 200 mile EEZ.
Current access rights simply reflect historical, traditional fishing patterns, many of those dating back centuries. Should the UK deny access to its EEZ to the EU-27 fleets, this would have some far reaching consequences for our fishermen and our fishing communities, both economically and socially. It would lead to a loss of, on average, one third of our catch and up to 60% in some specific cases.
That would have potentially devastating effects on our industry. Our estimates show a reduction of net profit for European fleets concerned by about 50%. This reduction in revenue and reduction in fleet size would lead to the loss of at least 6000 full time jobs both in the fleets and the sectors depending on them. This would have a devastating effect – destroying many local communities dependent on fishing across Europe.
Our industry will be an acid test for the entire Brexit process. We are entangled with the United Kingdom like no other sector: we share a limited resource, we share fishing grounds and markets. We will thus naturally set the benchmark of how Brexit will be handled by politicians on both sides of the table. We will also set a standard for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Our goal is to find a long term post-Brexit agreement that benefits all: the European and the British industry, and those who care about the sustainability of our collective fishing stocks. We aim for a long term deal that maintains mutual access to heritage fishing grounds, preserves the current distribution of TACs and quotas, and provides a clear, long-term fisheries management framework.
We believe that the European Union should match UK’s ambitions in the area of fisheries and ensure that the fishing industry is a political priority in the upcoming talks. We also call upon EU negotiators to fully recognize the real challenge Brexit presents for our industry and communities. The fisheries industry cannot, and must not, become a bargaining chip.
Finally, we believe that the outcome of the Brexit negotiations should reflect the mutual interdependence of the EU and the UK in the field of fisheries. One third of our catch comes from UK waters, two thirds of British seafood exports are destined to the European market. The Brexit agreement has to set the basis for a constructive and long term collaboration between us.
The very nature of our industry means that we are, in truth, all in the same boat. This is not about commercial concerns or national interest. Far from it. We have shared resources and fishing grounds for centuries and what affects one of us affects all of us. We are ready to work with all of those willing to achieve a sustainable and long term framework for fisheries policy cooperation in Europe.
Through our member organizations the European Fisheries Alliance represents fishermen and companies of all sizes across the entire continent. This is not about business or vessel size or income, neither is it about gaining a competitive advantage. This is about securing a prosperous future for all fishermen and communities involved.
The debate about the impact of Brexit on fisheries touches upon the so called concept of ‘relative stability’ — but many people have no idea what this term really means. The principle of relative stability is one of the oldest and most important concepts of the Common Fisheries Policy. First introduced in the 1983 sharing agreement, the principle of relative stability sets the allocation of fishing opportunities among EU member states.
How much an individual fishing vessel in the EU is allowed to fish of a certain fish stock is firstly defined by the setting of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for that stock. The Council of Fisheries Ministers is responsible for setting these TACs for the European fish stocks which is done based on scientific advice and on fisheries management principles, which ensures the long-term sustainability of the fish stocks we harvest. Secondly it is defined by the share of a given TAC the EU flag member state of that individual fishing vessel has in this TAC. In the third place it is defined by the way the government of the EU member state allocates its share of a given TAC to its individual fishing vessels.
The sharing of the TACs among the EU countries in the form of national quotas is based on the principle of relative stability: for each fish stock a different allocation percentage (per EU country) is applied. This fixed percentage is known as the relative stability keys. So, the core function of the principle of relative stability is to ensure a fair, open and balanced distribution of quotas among EU countries. So, which factors have been taken into account when the relative stability keys were defined in 1983?
- Historic catch records provide a good assessment of traditional fishing activities and therefore are an important indicator for the allocation key. Catches are recorded fleet by fleet, for each member state. The reference point taken coincides with the time each member became a full member of the EU.
- Specific local considerations, such as large communities’ that are dependent on fishing activities, are also taken into account when deciding on the allocation key for each fish stock. To ensure these really do benefit the fishing communities that rely on fishing activities, The Hague Preferences adjusts national fishing quotas accordingly and this affects other EU member states. The United Kingdom for example is one of the two member states that benefit from this clause.
- Jurisdictional losses which are the result of potential loss in catches in third country waters.
The departure of the United Kingdom will entail the definition of new fisheries resources allocation and management mechanism between the EU-27 and the UK. This process needs to be approached very carefully as it will can have serious consequences for many fisheries communities’ across Europe and the UK.
On 2 July 2017, the UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove, announced that – following in the conclusion of Brexit negotiations in 2019 – the United Kingdom will withdraw from the 1964 London Fisheries Convention.
What is the 1964 London Fisheries Convention?
Fishing grounds in Western Europe, and particularly in the North Sea, have always been shared between Coastal States in Europe. In 1882 Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom signed the North Sea Fisheries Convention, which allowed a coastal state to claim exclusive right for fishing within a three-mile limit from its coast line.
In 1963, the UK set up its own 12-mile exclusive fishing zone. Other Coastal States were keen to exercise similar right and agreed to negotiate a new agreement together, resulting in the London Fisheries Convention.
Signed in 1964 by 13 European states (including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK), the London Fisheries Convention recognized historic fishing rights for the Signatory Parties within a 6–12 nautical-mile-zone from the coast line.
What does the UK’s withdrawal mean in practice?
In the short term, the UK Government’s announcement to withdraw from the 1964 London Fisheries Convention – a process that is set to take least two years – will have no legal nor immediate practical impact.
This is because the countries that signed the London Convention in 1964 are all members of the European Union. As such, pursuant to EU law, the Common Fisheries Policy superseded the London Convention since its start in 1983: the historic access agreement between the EU member states as laid down in the London Convention appear as Annex in the CFP basic regulation.
The Common Fisheries Policy is based on mutual access to fishing grounds, allowing vessels from all EU countries to fish beyond the 12-mile limit, on the condition of course that these vessels avail of catch quota in the given area.
The United Kingdom will remain bound by the Common Fisheries Policy until the day it leaves the European Union. Future fisheries policy – including access to fishing grounds and resources – will fall under the framework of current Brexit negotiations. The UK’s departure will require setting up a new system which takes into account the centuries-old fishing patterns and cooperation among European coastal states. So what affects one of us, affects all of us. We believe that our historic relationship with our UK colleagues, which has always been grounded in reciprocity, understanding and reasoned discussion, will prevail.