For centuries now, European and UK fishermen have shared fish stocks and fishing grounds. Together we have harvested a limited resource – some 100 shared stocks that know no borders. Our relationship with our UK colleagues has always been grounded in reciprocity, understanding and reasoned discussion.
European fleets have been fishing in UK waters for centuries, long before the 1982 UN convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) set out the concept of 200 mile Exclusive economic zone (EEZ). We also worked together with our UK colleagues on fish stocks management long before the entry into force of both UNCLOS and the United Nations Fish Stock Agreement (UNFSA). A history of co-operation and shared interests has defined our relationship.
When the United Kingdom joined the EU in 1973, there was general agreement that the new legal framework for fisheries should reflect the historical practice and principles, such as mutual access to fishing grounds and joint stocks management. In turn, the United Kingdom seafood production relies heavily on export (80%) and on average 75% of its export is destined for the EU 27 market. In this context, the United Kingdom has enjoyed free and unrestricted access to the European market. This has worked well, both for the UK and for us. We see no reason why centuries of legal norms and real life practice should now abruptly be abandoned.
The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union could lead to a historical change in access to fishing grounds for EU fleets. If the UK indeed closes access to its EEZ, it would be the first time one country would claim sole authority over fisheries management in parts of the North Sea, waters west of Scotland, the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea as well as the Channel.
This could have very serious consequences for European fishing fleets, which on average largely depend on these waters. These waters are part of our traditional fishing grounds, and have been for hundreds of years: our estimate suggests that on average over the last 10 years 42% of our catches (in volume) are caught in what post Brexit will become British waters’. Depending on specific species and specific fleets, this percentage could rise to 60% or more.
*42% in volume represents 34% of the value of our total catches.