Brexit: fisheries Contents

Chapter 4: Domestic policy fit for purpose

The Great Repeal Bill

51.As an independent coastal state, the UK will be entitled, and obliged, to manage the exploitation and conservation of fish within its EEZ in a sustainable way. Brexit, we heard, is therefore an opportunity for the UK to design a domestic fisheries management regime that is tailored to the mixed fisheries80 that prevail in UK waters.81 Mr Deas told us that the new regime should strive to deliver the “twin objectives” of sustainable and profitable fishing, taking into account the biological, legal, political and economic realities.82 Fishing for Leave similarly noted that Brexit was an opportunity to review the ways in which the UK manages fisheries, to ensure that the approach will be “applicable and suitable” to the marine environment it seeks to regulate.83

52.We also heard that replacing current Regulations will take time and that, were the UK to repeal the CFP without replacing it with new legislation, a legislative deficit could arise.84 Professor Barnes argued that legislating to fill regulatory gaps filled by leaving the EU would be “absolutely critical”, and would buy time for the UK to consult and develop a UK fisheries regime.85

53.The Minister, George Eustice MP, acknowledged that “We cannot have … a vacuum or period of chaos when there is no regulation at all.”86 He added:

“There is a spectrum of options available. One would be to have, in the time we have, a fundamental look at the technical measures and look at where we would like to make changes, where we would like things to remain the same and try to roll forward the things we want to keep into a UK legal basis, and change the bits we want to change again on a UK basis. The alternative, at the other end of the spectrum … is to nationalise the acquis in one bang and, over time, evolve that and refine it so it better suits our needs and deals with the challenges we have. There is a spectrum there of trying to be quite ambitious on the things we would like to change … or taking a more cautious approach that … gives the opportunity to think things through carefully and refine some of the technical regulations over time.”87

54.The Great Repeal Bill proposed by the Prime Minister seems to reflect the option set out by the Minister, George Eustice MP, of repatriating all EU law and refining it over time, and does not preclude a review of current measures and their suitability for the UK. The Government must prevent a legislative deficit.

Opportunities for reform

55.It is not the intention of this report to recommend what a future UK fisheries management regime should be, but witnesses did raise a number of opportunities for reform, which we briefly outline below.

Coastal communities

56.Fishing for Leave argued that, in repatriating fisheries management, the UK could “implement a decent, fit for purpose management policy for the benefit of the whole UK industry, all involved within the industry and the coastal communities that depend upon it.”88 Indeed many submissions argued that the UK had an opportunity to recognise the interests of the coastal communities, maximising the potential economic, environmental and social benefits of fishing and including localised interests within the fisheries management regime.89 Hazel Curtis, Chief Economist for Seafish, explained:

“[Brexit] is an opportunity to consider within the Devolved Administrations what is wanted from the fishing industry, what benefits society wants from fishing: do you want to maximise jobs, do you want to maximise profits, do you want to maximise community ownership? … It is an opportunity to look afresh and be clear about what society wants to achieve from having a fishing industry.”90

57.We were interested to hear that other coastal states have put similar objectives at the heart of fisheries management. Mr Sigurgeir Thorgeirsson, Senior Advisor on fisheries to the Icelandic Minister for Industry and Innovation, told us that Iceland aimed to secure sustainable fisheries management and to use fish stocks “in such a way as to maximise the economic and social benefits to the nation as a whole”.91 In a similar vein, Mr Landmark told us that the Norwegian fisheries management policy aimed to “secure biological sustainability and economic, sound fisheries to make sure that our resources are utilised to the benefit of our coastal communities”.92

Revising technical Regulations93

58.We also heard that the existing management measures should be replaced with Regulations that were tailored to the UK. Industry representatives made it clear that replicating the CFP into UK law in its current form was unappealing. Mr Deas told us: “the sphere of technical measures is where it [the CFP] has been most dysfunctional”. He continued:

“There is a great deal of relief in the UK catching sector that we have an opportunity to move away from that and design and deliver something that is tailored more to our fleets and is more responsive and dynamic than the very cumbersome decision-making system that we have operated under within the EU.”94

59.Mr Armstrong agreed: “The default position of just taking [the CFP] on and running it the way it always has been would be very silly”.95 He added that the UK could do “much better” once it could put in place its own Regulations without deliberation within the Council and the European Parliament.96 Fishing for Leave also suggested that a new UK fisheries management regime should “rationalise the multitude of technical measures into a concise UK wide set of standards.”97

60.One particular area of concern was the discard ban.98 To Mr Armstrong this was “the most perfect example of a CFP gone wrong”, because the objective of the policy was unworkable.99 But other witnesses, including Fergus Ewing MSP, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, including fisheries, supported preserving the obligation or tailoring it to UK conditions.100 The Minister, George Eustice MP, noted that the discard ban was a Conservative Party Manifesto commitment, though he recognised that the UK should “make maximum use of all the flexibilities, all the tools in the box that are in that policy, so that we can make it work in practice as well as in theory”.101 Mr Landmark suggested the UK could make the discard ban more effective if it accompanied the landing obligation with technical measures designed to avoid catching the unwanted fish that must otherwise be landed, thus minimising fish mortality at sea.102

61.Mr Landmark highlighted that “not being part of the Common Fisheries Policy gives [Norway] the possibility of a far more dynamic approach to fisheries management”.103 Mr Thorgeirsson agreed: “The decision-making process in Iceland is much simpler and closer to the actions of the industry than in the EU”.104 He told us of dynamic policy changes in Iceland, where skippers were obliged to listen to the radio at certain times of the day, when new or changed measures would be communicated. The Minister also suggested that Brexit was an opportunity “to expedite changes in technical measures where we deem them necessary”, making it easier to change technical Regulations.105

62.We note that the increased use of regionalisation under the reformed CFP has already led to a process by which Member States with a direct interest in a basin submit joint recommendations for achieving the objectives of multi-annual plans, which the Commission can then adopt in a Commission Act making the recommendations applicable.106 We also note that the Minister has in the past supported the ongoing efforts to regionalise the CFP, and has in correspondence with the Committee said that he was “extremely pleased” with how the new process of regionalisation in fisheries management worked.107

Domestic quota allocations

63.Most commercially fished species are managed through quotas. While some witnesses advocated an effort-based system instead of quotas,108 the NEF argued that, despite former challenges with the implementation of the system, quotas had led to a decline in overfishing, growth in the size of stocks and rising industry profits.109 Dr Appleby thought it unfeasible to abandon quotas altogether, because they were a currency in international fisheries management. He emphasised that replacing them would require supranational agreement to preserve international co-operation110—a view shared by the NEF.

64.The domestic quota allocation to vessels in the UK has been a source of vexation for the industry, particularly on the grounds that quotas are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, large businesses.111 Dr Stewart, reflecting the fact that the UK quota allocation is a national competence under the CFP, stated that issues associated with domestic quota allocations were not “necessarily to do with the EU”. But he believed that a Brexit revision of fisheries policy could lead to a review of quota distribution, addressing claims that small boats are disadvantaged.112 The Angling Trust also highlighted the potential for accommodating small scale fishermen.113

65.The extent to which the Government chooses to revise the domestic quota allocation system is beyond the scope of this report, though we note Brexit could lead to a review of current practices.114 We also note the Minister’s commitment to maintaining “some sort of quota system”.115

Wider environment

66.We heard that Brexit could be an opportunity for the United Kingdom to integrate sustainability across hitherto separate policy areas, so as to address the wider interests of the marine environment.116 Though this report focuses on fisheries only, we recognise that the sustainability of fish stocks is inextricably linked to the sustainability of the wider marine environment.

67.Withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy is an opportunity for the UK to review fisheries management practices and develop a management regime that is tailored to the United Kingdom. It is an opportunity for the UK to address concerns regarding the current fisheries management regime and to reflect the needs and interests of coastal communities, the wider marine environment and the industry.


Sustainable stocks: commitment to MSY

68.All witnesses, irrespective of their view on the extent to which CFP policies should be preserved in UK law, agreed that sustainability should continue to be a guiding principle after Brexit, and that fisheries management should continue to be science-led.117 The Marine Conservation Society noted that “Ensuring fishing at MSY for all stocks must remain an integral part of any fisheries management in the UK”.118 This, the IEEP told us, would protect fish resources “in the long term from further destruction and overexploitation”, and respect the UK’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals.119 Industry representatives agreed. Barrie Deas told us: “Measured in terms of tonnage, about 80% of our stocks are at maximum sustainable yield, and … we do not want to move away from that, as we have a big interest in high-yield fisheries”.120

69.MSY will not be achieved without political will. The Angling Trust expressed concern that long-term benefits arising from stock improvement had often been compromised by misguided attempts to increase short-term profits for the catching sector.121 The NEF agreed.122 But the Minister told us that “I was always clear in the campaign that there are certain things that we would not change… even outside the European Union. One is targeting MSY”.123 He added that he had campaigned for the UK to leave the EU on the basis that “fishing sustainably would remain a key tenet of UK policy.”124

70.The Angling Trust argued that “For shared stocks the UK cannot achieve MSY on its own.” They explained that if the UK moved towards MSY for shared stocks faster than the EU, the UK fishing fleet would be at a competitive disadvantage when fishing those stocks. Consequently neither the UK nor the EU could achieve MSY for shared stocks without the other. They concluded: “It is therefore in the national interest of the UK to ensure that MSY is reached as quickly as possible in conjunction with the EU”.125


71.The Common Fisheries Policy has provided the legislative framework within which responsibility for fisheries has been devolved within the United Kingdom. In the words of Dr Appleby: “Devolution took place amid the backdrop of EU law providing the binding glue in fisheries law”.126 In his view Brexit raised “the spectre of four different UK fisheries policies within the UK itself”, while the IEEP suggested that leaving the EU could necessitate a renegotiation of the devolution settlement regarding fisheries.127

72.The Minister recognised that devolution would add complexity to the future of fisheries policy after Brexit. He suggested the Government would need to “work out … how we put in place a UK-wide framework of some sort; what the limits of that framework are; then how we give as much discretion and control as possible to the Devolved Administrations to manage fisheries in a way that works for them”. He added that the framework should respect the existing principles of the devolution settlement: “we create the scope in some areas for Administrations to act more expeditiously to deliver changes in things like technical Regulations faster than they might otherwise be able to, but to do so in a way that preserves the UK-wide framework”.128

73.Nevertheless, the differences between the fishing industries in the devolved nations, in particular the difference between the Scottish fleet and that of the other home nations, led witnesses to suggest that these differences would need to be reflected in the Brexit negotiations and subsequently. Mr Ewing told us that the importance of fisheries to Scotland “demonstrates why the Scottish Government must be involved directly in shaping the UK position as well as with any discussions with other countries”.129 With regard to negotiations with coastal states, he added: “We will rightly demand and expect that we have the lead negotiating role for issues in which Scotland has the majority interest.” The Minister acknowledged that the fishing industry was “incredibly important” to Scotland, and suggested that the Government had “always been incredibly inclusive” in Fisheries Council, where Devolved Ministers accompany the UK Minister in the negotiations.130

74.The SFF and the NFFO agreed in principle that due weight should be given in any negotiations to the Devolved Administration(s) with a vested interest, in particular focusing on Scotland.131 Mr Armstrong suggested that:

“For Brexit, and most especially for the UK acting as a coastal state after Brexit, the size of the [UK EEZ] creates a critical mass that gives you a very powerful negotiating position, which we would wish to retain and not have diluted by any—what you might call arm wrestling north and south”.132

He added that in future international negotiations, the SFF “would expect the Scots to be consulted” and that a joint UK position should be “formed with that in mind”. Mr Deas agreed, though he stressed that it was important “that the UK must take the lead in all international negotiations”, because UK Ministers are accountable to Parliament.133

75.The Minister recognised that “we have to make sure that we engage very closely with the devolved Administrations and we will, but also the industry in those devolved Administrations”.134 He assured us that the Government was engaging in a “strong dialogue” directly with industries to understand and reflect the differences across the UK.135

Resourcing and enforcement

76.Delivering a policy that is tailored to the United Kingdom, the interests of coastal communities and the industry, as well as implementing and enforcing it, will be an immense task for the Government and its agencies. This task is likely to fall to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Defra has been subject to significant budget cuts in recent years, giving rise to concern that it will not be able to manage this considerable task.136 UKIP therefore suggested establishing a new “Fisheries Ministry”.137

77.Marcus Coleman, CEO of Seafish, told us that the “Hundreds of millions in blocks of tranches are made available to the sector, principally through European funding routes”, the future of which is uncertain.138 This funding, Dr Appleby argued, “is very important in the development and maintenance of the fishing sector—particularly the inshore fleet”.139 Mr Deas acknowledged that funding was “important” though he noted “it is not top of the list.”140 The WWF and the IEEP reminded us that control and monitoring were instrumental for implementing policy as well as assessing stocks and evaluating the fishing pressure on commercially-fished species.141 Given that the UK will have a much larger area of sea under its control post-Brexit, they recommended that the UK should identify what would be required in terms of effective monitoring and enforcement of fishing activities in the UK EEZ, and put in place appropriate provisions to achieve this. We note that control and enforcement are devolved matters, and that the UK already largely controls and monitors its own waters.

78.The Minister told us that Defra was “mapping out the workload … both to design a policy post-Brexit but also to play our part in those crucial negotiations for Brexit itself.”142 If the Department needed additional resources to manage this workload, he would “obviously” make the case within Government. He suggested that “there may also be other areas where we may be able to slim down or streamline work on emerging EU dossiers that are some years off”. For such dossiers there was “a moot point about how much resource we throw at that given we will be outside the European Union at that point”. Therefore, he argued, resources could be re-prioritised.

79.Yet until the UK withdraws from the EU, it remains a Member State and must participate in the legislative processes that take place. Though some dossiers may not come into force before withdrawal, they may still affect the UK because of the transboundary nature of fish stocks. Mr Deas highlighted proposals of importance to the UK:

“There is a new technical measures regulation and there are multiannual management plans for the North Sea and north-west waters all in train, as well as the annual cycle of TAC setting. We have to keep all these balls in the air while we consider the Brexit aspects.”143

80.As a model for the way ahead for the UK, the commitment of resources and political will that characterises the Norwegian and Icelandic fisheries management regimes is particularly impressive. We heard that both countries placed great emphasis on controlling activities at sea through their respective Coast Guards, and that significant resources were committed to the task.144 The SIA highlighted the political will of both countries to develop and invest in their fisheries management policies.145 We note that this commitment is crucial to developing effective and appropriate fisheries management regimes.

81.Developing an effective and sustainable policy that is appropriate for UK waters and that respects the devolution settlement will require a process based on consultation and evidence. Implementing and enforcing such a policy will require substantial resources and political will. The Government must also decide whether to replace EU structural funding to the industry and coastal communities following Brexit.

82.The devolution of fisheries management means that Brexit could lead to four different fisheries management regimes within the UK. It is vital that the UK Government develops a unified negotiating position that represents the interests of the Devolved Administrations and industries prior to engaging in international fisheries negotiations, both in the context of Brexit and beyond.

83.Until the UK withdraws from the EU, it will remain a Member State. Legislative proposals currently under consideration in the EU may come into force before the UK leaves the EU, or will have an effect on fisheries management in the UK after withdrawal, thanks to the mobility of stocks. The Government must therefore continue to engage with the development of EU proposals until such a time that withdrawal is complete.

Alignment to the CFP

84.Though the CFP has been much criticised, with UKIP noting that “The UK has nothing to learn from the EU management of fisheries, which has proved so damaging to fishing communities and fish stocks”,146 others argued that, following reform, the policy had delivered sustainable stock management through its commitment to achieving MSY, protection of marine habitats, increasingly regionalised regulations and the reduction of the wasteful practice of discarding.147 Therefore, the IEEP told us, the UK should: “aim to ‘cherry-pick’ and continue to improve, based on British conditions, the policy interventions in the EU that are delivering positive results.”148

85.Former Director in the Directorate General for Fisheries in the European Commission John Farnell saw alignment to the CFP as the most effective way of facilitating continued regional co-operation and minimising the risk of over-fishing.149 Similarly, Professor Barnes argued that fisheries management had to “proceed on the basis of co-operation, without which we will have to go back to situations of competitive overfishing.” He added: “under international law, there are particular requirements of compatibility between fisheries regulation within Exclusive Economic Zones and on the high seas. While that does not require them to be identical, it does require compatible fisheries regulations.”150 One state could otherwise undermine the effectiveness of a regulatory regime by allowing particular types of gear, for example, which could have adverse impact on stocks and risk politicising management efforts.151

86.The IEEP further raised the question of standards: through the CFP a number of standards have been adopted regulating issues such as Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Compliance with these standards could be a requirement for continued trade with the EU. 152 The WWF agreed.153

87.A new fisheries management regime within the UK will only be effective if there is a degree of alignment to, and co-operation with, neighbouring states. Such regional co-operation will necessitate co-ordinated objectives and similar management practices, without which the sustainability of shared stocks may be undermined. The UK should not discard the positive elements of the CFP that successive Governments have worked hard to achieve, such as sustainability and regional co-operation.

80 Mixed fisheries are those fisheries in which more than one species is present and where different species are likely to be caught in the same fishing operation. Vessels fishing for one species are therefore likely to catch other, un-targeted species as well (known as ‘by-catch’).

81 Written evidence from Fishing for Leave (FBR0002), the Angling Trust (FBR0013) and UKIP (FBR0009); Q 1 (Dr Bryce Stewart), Q 12 (Barrie Deas and Bertie Armstrong) and Q 35 (George Eustice MP)

83 Written evidence from Fishing for Leave (FBR0002)

84 Written evidence from Dr Thomas Appleby (FBR0012); Q 11 (Prof Richard Barnes)

88 Written evidence from Fishing for Leave (FBR0002)

89 Written evidence from the Angling Trust (FBR0013), Fishing for Leave (FBR0002), the IEEP (FBR0003) and UKIP (FBR0009); Q 1 (Prof Richard Barnes) and Q 13 (Hazel Curtis)

93 Technical Regulations are measures that regulate how, where and when fishers may fish. This includes Regulations on minimum landing sizes of fish, minimum mesh sizes for fish nets and area closures. European Commission, ‘Technical Measures - Managing Fisheries’:
[accessed 7 December 2016]

97 Written evidence from Fishing for Leave (FBR0002)

98 The 2013 reform of the CFP introduced an obligation to land all fish caught in EU waters. This landing obligation is also referred to as the ‘discard ban’ and seeks to minimise the wasteful practice of discarding fish at sea. The UK was a key advocate of the ban in negotiations.

100 Written evidence from Fergus Ewing MSP (FBR0011), Dr Thomas Appleby (FBR0012), WWF (FBR0010), the IEEP (FBR0003) and the Marine Conservation Society (FBR0006); Q 2 (Dr Bryce Stewart)

106 European Commission Regionalisation - Managing fisheries: [accessed 7 December 2016]

107 Letter from George Eustice MP to Lord Boswell, 7 December 2014:–14_Min_Cor_7_December_2014_Eustice-Boswell.pdf, regarding, Explanatory Memorandum for European Union 14543/14 on Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) establishing a discard plan for certain small pelagic fisheries and fisheries for industrial purposes in the North Sea, 20 October 2014:

108 For more details about this proposed management model please see the written evidence from Fishing for Leave (FBR0002), UKIP (FBR0009) and former fishing gear manufacturer John Ashworth (FBR0004)

109 Written evidence from the NEF (FBR0007)

110 Written evidence from Dr Thomas Appleby (FBR0012)

111 Written evidence from the NEF (FBR0007)

112 Q 1 (Dr Bryce Stewart)

113 Written evidence from the Angling Trust (FBR0013)

114 Professor Philip Booth suggested that the UK could draw on the Icelandic example to establish a domestic quota system that established property rights in fisheries in perpetuity, giving fishermen an incentive to strive for sustainable TACs, and was freely tradable. Written evidence from the Institute of Economic Affairs (FBR0014)

116 Written evidence from the IEEP (FBR0003), the SIA (FBR0008), WWF (FBR0010) and the Angling Trust (FBR0013); Q 1 (Prof Robin Churchill)

117 Written evidence from the Angling Trust (FBR0013), Fergus Ewing MSP (FBR0011), John Farnell (FBR0005), the IEEP (FBR0003), the SIA (FBR0008), UKIP (FBR0009), Fishing for Leave (FBR0002) and the NEF (FBR0007); Q 3 (Dr Bryce Stewart)

118 Written evidence from the Marine Conservation Society (FBR0006)

119 Written evidence from the IEEP (FBR0003)

121 Written evidence from the Angling Trust FBR0013

122 Written evidence from the NEF FBR0007

125 Written evidence from the Angling Trust FBR0013

126 Written evidence from Dr Thomas Appleby (FBR0012)

127 Written evidence from the IEEP (FBR0003)

129 Written Evidence from Fergus Ewing MSP (FBR0011)

136 Written evidence from the NEF (FBR0007), Fishing for Leave (FBR0002) and UKIP (FBR0009); Q 1 (Prof Richard Barnes and Dr Bryce Stewart)

137 Written evidence from UKIP (FBR0009)

139 Written evidence from Dr Thomas Appleby (FBR0012)

141 Written evidence from WWF (FBR0010) and the IEEP (FBR0003)

145 Written evidence from the SIA (FBR0008)

146 Written evidence from UKIP (FBR0009)

147 Written evidence from the Marine Conservation Society (FBR0006), Dr Thomas Appleby (FBR0012), WWF (FBR0010), the Angling Trust (FBR0013) and the SIA (FBR0008); Q 1 (Prof Richard Barnes) and Q 11 (Dr Bryce Stewart)

148 Written evidence from the IEEP (FBR0003)

149 Written evidence from John Farnell (FBR0005)

152 Written evidence from the IEEP (FBR0003)

153 Written evidence from WWF (FBR0010)

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