Documents considered by the Committee on 13 February 2019 Contents

3Brexit-preparedness: Fisheries

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Document details

(a) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2017/2403 as regards fishing authorisations for Union fishing vessels in United Kingdom waters and fishing operations of United Kingdom fishing vessels in Union waters; (b) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No 508/2014 as regards certain rules relating to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund by reason of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union

Legal base

(a) Article 43(2) TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV (b) Articles 42 and 43(2) TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV

Department

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Document Numbers

(a) (40337), 5678/19, COM(19) 49; (b) (40338), 5668/19, COM(19) 48

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

3.1Given the continued uncertainty over UK ratification of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, the European Commission has published two proposals designed to mitigate the impact on the EU fisheries sector of a “no deal” Brexit scenario.

3.2EU fishing vessels have equal access to EU waters and resources subject to the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).10 In the absence of a withdrawal agreement, the CFP will no longer apply to the UK as from the withdrawal date, and UK waters will no longer be part of EU waters. The default position would therefore be that EU vessels would not be able to fish in UK waters and vice versa. Even under that scenario, though, both the EU and the UK would be required under international law11 to cooperate on the management of shared stocks.

3.3The Commission considers that, to guarantee the sustainability of fisheries and in light of the importance of fisheries for the economic livelihood of many communities, it is important to maintain the possibility of arrangements for continued reciprocal fishing access by EU and UK vessels to each other’s waters. The vessels of eight Member States12 fish in UK waters, from which they land an average of 14% of their catch—ranging from 50% for the Belgian fleet to 1% for the Spanish fleet.

3.4One proposal (document (a)) ensures that the EU is in a position to grant UK vessels access to EU waters until the end of 2019, on the condition that EU vessels are also granted reciprocal access to UK waters. This amendment to the EU Regulation on the sustainable management of external fishing fleets (SMEFF Regulation)13 is based on the agreement of 17 and 18 December 2018 on the fishing opportunities for 201914 and on the earlier agreement covering deep-sea stocks.15 While the SMEFF Regulation already sets arrangements for the granting of fishing authorisations to third country vessels and vice versa, the Commission proposes a simplified procedure given the number of EU vessels that fish in UK waters. It is concerned that reliance on existing arrangements could lead to considerable delays and administrative burden.

3.5The Commission also proposes that Member States be able to exchange quotas with the UK bilaterally. This is in line with current arrangements under the CFP allowing Member States to exchange quota between themselves, although the Commission proposes that it would carry out any quota exchange negotiated between the UK and a Member State. Approximately 1000 quota exchanges take place annually between the UK and Member States.

3.6The other proposal (document (b)) would allow fishermen and operators from EU Member States to receive compensation under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)16 for the temporary cessation of fishing activities. This would help off-set some of the impact of a sudden closure of UK waters to EU fishing vessels in a no-deal scenario.

3.7The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice MP) says in his Explanatory Memorandum (EM) that any future access to fish in EU waters and other arrangements with the EU will be a matter for negotiation and considers that nothing in the fishing access proposal (document (a)) pre-empts a negotiated agreement. The EMFF proposal (document(b)) will not have any direct implications on the UK, says the Minister, as the amendment will not apply to Member States until after Brexit.

3.8In his earlier EM17 on the Commission’s proposals for 2019 fishing opportunities, the Minister had confirmed that the 2019 fishing opportunities would apply for the whole year regardless of exit scenarios. This position was cast into some doubt by a letter18 from the Secretary of State (Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP) to the House of Lords EU Committee indicating that cross-Government agreement was being sought for an approach to quota allocations in the event of no deal.

3.9The Minister told us in November 2018 that the Government would respect the agreed fishing opportunities for the whole of 2019 irrespective of the outcome of Brexit discussions. The Secretary of State subsequently cast doubt on that position in mid-January, noting that cross-Government agreement was being sought for an approach to quota allocations in the event of no deal. We ask that the Government set out clearly its approach to quota allocations in the event of no deal and an explanation as to any change of position since November when the Minister indicated that the 2019 fishing opportunities would be respected under all scenarios.

3.10In the event that the UK chooses not to respect in full the agreement on 2019 fishing opportunities, we ask that the Minister address the following issues:

3.11Regarding the proposed amendment to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, we ask that the Minister set out any similar commitment by the UK to compensate UK industry for any lost fishing opportunities in the event of a no deal and reduced access to EU waters.

3.12It is the Minister’s view that the fishing access proposal (document(a)) is a framework that would apply not only to a situation in which the UK respects the 2019 quotas as agreed in full but also to a situation in which the UK declined to respect those quotas but pushed successfully for the UK and EU to negotiate a revised arrangement. Our interpretation is that the proposed framework is designed expressly for a situation based on the 2019 quotas as agreed in December 2018. This appears clear from the revised Article 38b, where “fishing operations by United Kingdom vessels” are defined in accordance with the conditions set out in the Regulations governing the 2019 quotas. On the other hand, we accept that there may be some flexibility in the seventh Recital, which grants fishing authorisations to UK vessels in EU waters “if and to the extent that” the UK continues to provide authorisations to EU vessels in UK waters “to make use of fishing opportunities allocated to them in accordance with the relevant fishing opportunity Regulations.” We ask the Minister if this Recital is the basis for the Government’s interpretation that the framework would apply to any negotiated agreement between the UK and the EU and to clarify whether the Commission shares this interpretation.

3.13The arrangements set out in the fishing access proposal (document (a)) include the continued transfer and exchange of quotas between the UK and Member States. The Commission states that there are 1000 such exchanges annually between the UK and other EU Member States. We ask the Government to confirm whether it agrees with this figure and, if so, what the overall volumes of such exchanges are, the species and areas involved and how many may already have been arranged for the 2019 quota year. We would also welcome the Government’s assessment of the potential implication of centralising this procedure through the Commission, unlike the current management of such exchanges bilaterally with the other Member States.

3.14Finally, the proposal does not cover fishing opportunities allocated to the UK (as an EU Member State) in third country waters. We ask the Minister to confirm that, in a no deal scenario, separate arrangements would be needed with each of those third countries on UK fishing opportunities in their waters and vice versa. We also ask the Minister to confirm what stage any such discussions have reached.

3.15In view of the outstanding matters, the proposal remains under scrutiny. We ask for a response to our queries by 27 February 2019. This chapter is drawn to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

(a) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2017/2403 as regards fishing authorisations for Union fishing vessels in United Kingdom waters and fishing operations of United Kingdom fishing vessels in Union waters: (40337), 5678/19, COM(19) 49;

(b) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No 508/2014 as regards certain rules relating to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund by reason of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union: (40338), 5668/19, COM(19) 48.

Previous Committee Reports

None.


10 Regulation 1380/2013.

11 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA).

12 Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands.

13 Regulation (EU) No 2017/2403.

14 Regulation (EU) 2019/124.

15 Regulation (EU) 2018/2025.

16 Regulation (EU) No 508/2014.

17 Paragraph 11, Explanatory Memorandum dated 26 November 2018 on Council document 13731/18 (Proposal for a Council Regulation fixing for 2019 the fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Union waters and, for Union fishing vessels, in certain non-Union waters).

18 Letter from Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP to Lord Teverson, dated 15 January 2019.




Published: 19 February 2019