Speech to the Fishing Committee on 11/10/2016

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to speak to you today.


Who’s been catching our fish?

I wish to draw your attention to a report released today by the NAFC Marine Centre UHI based in Shetland. The report provides a detailed analysis of what fish are caught and landed in the UK Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and who is doing the catching.

In short, EU vessels caught more than half of their fish quotas from the UK’s EEZ, four times more than UK boats caught in EU waters.

The report estimates that from 2012 to 2014 fishing boats from other EU countries caught on average 58% of the fish and shellfish landed from the UK’s EEZ each year - some 650,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth more than £400 millions each year.

In contrast, UK fishing boats landed 90,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth about £100 million, caught in EU waters each year.

A stark reminder of what British fishermen have been saying for some time, the current quota settlement does not reflect the reality of the fishing grounds. 

EU management overreach

The EU’s plans to develop a management plan for the North Sea must now be halted, for one simple reason: after Brexit, only 20% of the North Sea will fall under EU jurisdiction (see map). The UK and Norway will be responsible for the bulk of the North Sea. Indeed, for the northern North Sea (Area IV) the UK and Norway will be responsible for 100%.

Attempts to reform the management of the North Sea at this juncture would be premature, and run the risk that EU fishermen will have to adjust to two changes in short order, one driven by the EU, and thereafter one determined by the UK, post Brexit. That is daft. Far better the EU focus its endeavours on one of the other sea basins (such as the Mediterranean) until the Brexit settlement becomes clearer.

To the future

The Great Repeal Act will annul the 1972 European Communities Act. Thereafter the UK Parliament must decide which EU laws are fit for purpose, and which should be scrapped. On day one, there may well be a rollover of fisheries law, but by day two serious work must begin to ensure fisheries regulation works for British fishermen.

There will be challenges ahead, not least the fact that UK fishermen export more than three quarters of their fish and shellfish to the continent. 

However, what this report shows is that British fishermen can look forward to the Brexit negotiations with optimism. Returning management to the UK (and onwards to Scotland, as a result of the existing devolution settlement) and a reassessment of EU fishing rights in UK waters is a serious opportunity to bring fishermen into the management of their industry and the end of the EU’s quixotic approach to fisheries.