Brexit and Northern Ireland: fisheries Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Securing the best Brexit deal

1.The Committee supports the Government’s commitment to move away from the current inequitable allocation of fishing opportunity under relative stability and welcomes its publication of evidence in support of the zonal attachment measure. However, the White Paper does not say whether the Government intends to negotiate quota increases in line with these projections. Nor does it set out the criteria on which the UK will determine access for foreign vessels to UK waters after Brexit. We recommend that the Government clarify, in its response to this report, how it intends to exercise its rights under international law to secure a significant redistribution of fishing opportunity in UK waters. We further recommend that the Government sets out its projections for how quota allocation based on zonal attachment will differ from that of relative stability for the Northern Ireland fleet and the criteria that will be used to permit access by foreign vessels to fishing opportunity in UK waters after Brexit. (Paragraph 31)

2.The EU is an important export market for the Northern Ireland fishing sector. Negotiating a good deal for the Northern Ireland fishing industry is therefore not just about attaining increased quota but also securing continued access for Norther Ireland’s fisheries products to EU markets. Any future agreement with the EU should secure reciprocal tariff-free trade in fish and fisheries products, mutual recognition of standards, and a streamlined export process for perishable fisheries goods. The consequences of high tariffs will be particularly acute for those fishermen in Northern Ireland who catch non-quota shellfish species. These fishermen stand to incur the costs associated with increased tariff and non-tariff barriers without gaining the benefits of renegotiated quota. We recommend the Government set out, in its response to this report, which rules pertaining to fisheries trade would be included within the common rulebook. (Paragraph 47)

3.In a no deal scenario, in which trade in fisheries products is subject to the EU’s common external tariff, the gains implied by the exclusion of EU fishermen from the UK’s EEZ would be offset to an extent that is both unclear and uneven across the sector. (Paragraph 48)

4.In the event of no deal, catch certificates will be required for Northern Ireland’s fisheries imports and exports trade with the EU. The Government must be in a position to process catch certificates for all of Northern Ireland’s trade with the EU by 30th March 2019. We recommend the Government set out, in its response to this report, DEFRA’s timetable for piloting and delivering a new IT system capable of providing catch certificate for all UK fisheries trade with the EU in the event of a no deal scenario. (Paragraph 57)

5.In the event of no deal, the UK must have sufficient assets in place to prevent illegal fishing within its EEZ by 30 March 2019. We recommend that the Government publish its assessment of the assets required to police the UK’s EEZ after the UK leaves the EU and provide details of the amount of funding and number of ships available to the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre to prevent illegal fishing in UK waters. (Paragraph 62)

6.While informed by scientific advice, the decisions which determine Total Allowable Catch at the annual Fisheries Council are inherently political. The agreed Total Allowable Catches represent the culmination of a year’s worth of research and careful negotiation from interested parties across the EU. The absence of UK representation around the table at the December 2019 Fisheries Council, and in other fisheries governance bodies which influence the Commission’s decisions, could result in disadvantage to the UK fishing industry.

7.The Committee welcomes the commitments, contained within the Draft Withdrawal Agreement, on protecting British interests during the implementation period. However, the vague language and general terms which sufficed for the Draft Agreement will not be acceptable in the final text. We recommend that the final text of the Withdrawal Agreement, or accompanying documentation, clarify:

Territorial waters

8.We are disappointed that the Voisinage Arrangement has been unilaterally suspended in Ireland. While Irish fishermen have access to waters in Northern Ireland, fishermen in Northern Ireland have suffered hardship through exclusion from their habitual fishing grounds. This needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency. We recommend the Government structures talks with the Irish Government to establish the future of reciprocal access for Northern Irish vessels under the Voisinage Arrangement. If the Irish Government does not give a clear commitment to pass, within 6 months of publication of this report, legislation which restores reciprocal access, the Government must discontinue access to UK waters for Irish vessels from 30 March 2019. If the Irish Government does pass legislation to reinstate the Voisinage Arrangement, then the UK Government should consider whether the arrangement should also be put on statutory footing in UK law. (Paragraph 82)

9.The dispute over maritime boundaries has resulted in environmental damage and economic disadvantage to the Lough Foyle area. The cause of the current crisis is the failure of the Irish and UK Governments to either resolve the jurisdictional issue or reach a management agreement for Lough Foyle. We recommend that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office concludes a management agreement with the Irish Government, within the next 12 months, that enables the Lough’s Agency to fully implement the 2007 Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Order. We further recommend that the Agency be given the extra resources necessary to remove existing unlicensed oyster trestles. (Paragraph 89)

10.The Loughs Agency, as a cross-border body, is ideally placed to manage the regulations that govern management of the river systems and loughs along the border. The Agency may face difficulties if it is required to balance two increasingly divergent sets of environmental regulations within its catchment area and so should be given the power to make sensible decisions on regulations itself. We recommend that the Loughs Agency be given the power, with the assistance and the oversight of the North-South Ministerial Council, to select the most appropriate environmental management strategy to regulate the areas under its jurisdiction and commensurate financial support and human resources to implement its decisions. (Paragraph 99)

11.It is disappointing that the collapse of devolved government in Northern Ireland is preventing the passage of legislation recommended by the Loughs Agency for the protection of the natural environment within its jurisdiction. In light of the Court decision on the limit of civil service decision-making powers in Northern Ireland, we recommend that the Government establish a new mechanism to ensure regulatory decisions proposed by the Loughs Agency and approved by the North South Ministerial Council can be implemented. (Paragraph 100)

The future of Northern Ireland fisheries

12.In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, there is no capacity in Northern Ireland to take decisions on future fisheries policy, particularly on the allocation of quota. This means that Northern Ireland, unlike the other devolved administrations, is unable to put forward its own management proposals or adopt the proposals the UK Government has developed for England. The Fisheries White Paper does not acknowledge this impediment and sets out a future fisheries policy for England only. We recommend that, in order to prevent a governance gap, the Government, in legislation proposed for October 2018, should set out how decisions on fishing policy in Northern Ireland will be taken in the continuing absence of an Executive. Any decisions should be amendable by a future Northern Ireland Executive, once it is established. (Paragraph 111)

13.The Government has yet to make any clear commitment to fisheries funding post December 2020. Investment in the industry at this critical period of change will be essential to ensure Northern Ireland’s fishermen can seize the opportunities presented by Brexit and adapt to new requirements. We recommend that the Government commit to continued funding for the fisheries industry, at comparable levels to EMFF, after December 2020. The Government should, in the fisheries Bill, set out priorities for funding which are based on experience of successful investments under EMFF such as harbour infrastructure and safety measures. (Paragraph 118)

14.Manpower shortages encouraged by current rules pose an existential threat to fishing businesses. Crewing fishing vessels is a skilled job, and experienced and qualified crew are required simply to maintain the current Northern Ireland fleet. Access to crew will become even more essential if the fleet is to take advantage of increased quota dividends and grow the industry after Brexit. In the short term, we recommend the Government grant a time-limited immigration concession for non-EU/EEA crew, as it did in March 2010, to help sustain and develop the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. In the longer term, we recommend the Government creates a visa pathway for fishermen which allows crewing of boats by EU/EEA and non-EU/EEA workers from the 6-nautical mile limit in recognition of the topography of the coast lines surrounding Northern Ireland. (Paragraph 130)

15.Lack of investment in Northern Ireland’s harbours has resulted in the loss of vital repair services and reduced the economic benefit that local communities receive from the fish caught by the Northern Ireland fleet. We recommend that the Government make a clear commitment to invest in infrastructure at Northern Ireland’s ports to ensure fishermen can bring home the benefits of renegotiated quota to their local communities. (Paragraph 138)

16.It is deeply disappointing that absence of an Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland is preventing progress on a valuable infrastructure project at Kilkeel. Important opportunities for economic development must not be kept on hold due to the collapse of Stormont. In the continued absence of devolved government, and in light of the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the limit of civil servant’s decision-making powers, we recommend that the UK Government create a new mechanism to enable decisions on infrastructure investment at Kilkeel. (Paragraph 139)

17.The Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Cooperative Society plays a vital role in bringing economic prosperity to the Lough Neagh area and conserving the wild European eel for future generations. The long-term future of the Lough Neagh wild eel fishery depends on securing a Non-Detriment Finding under CITES and maintaining financial support for the restocking project We recommend that the Government set out, in its response to this report, what steps it has taken to secure a Non-Detriment Finding in advance of the UK’s exit from the EU in March 2019 and whether it intends to continue the current levels of EMFF support for the restocking of eels into Lough Neagh. (Paragraph 147)

18.The Northern Ireland fishing industry has enormous potential, post-Brexit, to generate more jobs and greater economic benefit for coastal communities, as well as contribute further to the wider Northern Ireland economy. The UK’s decision to leave the EU offers the chance for the commercial catching sector in Northern Ireland to benefit from new fishing opportunity in UK waters. However, for the processing sector and those fishermen reliant on non-quota species, the risks of increased bureaucracy and the introduction of tariffs on trade with the EU means that securing access to the single market is a key priority. (Paragraph 148)

19.The Government should aim to secure an agreement with the EU on both future fisheries management and wider UK-EU relations that enables Northern Ireland to capitalise on the opportunities presented by Brexit. In its response to our report, the Government must clarify how access to UK waters and quota allocations will change. The Government must also provide information on the UK’s capacity to prepare and safeguard its fishing industry in the event of a no deal Brexit. At this critical time of change the Government must support Northern Ireland in dealing with long running structural problems such as infrastructure investment at ports and crewing shortages. The government must demonstrate that it has recognised the fishing industry’s crushing manpower constraints and set out how it will deal with them. This will empower the industry to take advantage of quota dividends and ensure economic benefit stays in local fishing communities. A timeline for the Government to act on our recommendations is contained at Annexe 1. (Paragraph 149)

20.The collapse of devolved Government must not result in Northern Ireland being voiceless and incapable of making important policy decisions on its future fisheries and environment policy at such a time. If the Executive is not restored by the end of the year, the UK Government must be prepared to take such decisions and prevent Northern Ireland from falling behind the other devolved administrations in preparing their fishing fleets for Brexit. (Paragraph 150)

Published: 15 September 2018