Brexit: fisheries Contents

Chapter 6: Total Allowable Catches and relative stability

97.Agreement on the level of exploitation for shared stocks is vital for the long-term sustainability of those fish. Most of our witnesses argued that the UK should continue to set TACs for shared stocks in co-operation with the EU and neighbouring coastal states.169 Professor Churchill summarised the argument as follows: “it is vital that the TAC for shared stocks is agreed because, if it is not, then we are likely to get overfishing”.170 Those stocks which are not shared, on the other hand, are, in the words of Bertie Armstrong, “not subject to negotiation with anybody other than our own sensible management”.171

Scientific advice

98.Witnesses unequivocally agreed that fisheries management post-Brexit should continue to be based on scientific advice.172 Mr Armstrong argued that scientific advice was “an uncrossable line”.173 There was therefore widespread agreement that the UK should continue to fund, and take advice from, the International Council on the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).174 The Minister thought it “highly unlikely” the UK would abandon fisheries management based on ICES advice.175 Fergus Ewing MSP told us that the Scottish Government too would “continue to take a science based sustainable approach to maximise the potential of the fishing industry as well as the wider marine environment and the communities it supports”.176

Political decisions

99.Though the TACs are informed by science, the overall exploitation rate is ultimately a political decision, and for shared stocks, a negotiated one. Ms Curtis explained:

“Scientists answer a question they have been asked, so it is not some exogenously generated total allowable catch that scientists say there should be. It depends what question you have asked them, such as what fish stock size you want and how risky are you prepared to be. Are you willing to risk the stock going down? I think it is worth reviewing the example a few years ago of the mackerel stock. Mackerel started to come through Iceland a bit more, and Iceland decided to take 100,000 tonnes where it used to take 4,000 tonnes, or some such difference. It decided that it would risk the stock to that extent. That was its political preference. So the total allowable catch is based on scientific advice, one would hope, but it is a political decision.”177

100.She further explained that in order to reach agreements on the TAC for shared stocks coastal states must agree on their risk appetite for a stock:

“When you are negotiating, you first have to agree on a fish stock assessment … what the stock size is, how big do we want it, and are we trying to grow it like the cod stock in the North Sea at present or keep it the same size that it is? Then, after you have agreed the sustainable annual harvest for an individual year, what are the international shares, what are the technical measures, and what are the enforcement and control measures that all the countries will accept?” 178

Box 7: The ‘Mackerel Wars’

In 2010 Iceland and the Faroe Islands argued they should receive higher shares of the TAC for mackerel, due to the increased abundance of the stock in their EEZs. The EU and Norway were unwilling to reduce their quotas and as a result, Iceland and the Faroe Islands set unilateral quotas for the shared stock.

Source: House of Commons Library, Icy fishing: UK and Iceland fish stock disputes, SNSC-06511, 19 December 2012

101.The outcome of these political decisions, the NEF argued, has been that countries have set TACs above scientific advice. Their research suggested that the TAC currently held by the UK was on average 17% above scientific advice, and that TACs agreed between the EU and third countries, such as Norway and Iceland, were often higher.179

102.We were pleased to hear the Minister confirm that under international law, the UK will be bound by “clear commitments to co-operate with other countries where there are shared fisheries to agree shared TACs”, and that the UK would continue to do so with European partners.180

103.Scientific advice is crucial to reaching agreement on the exploitation rates for shared stocks, and we welcome the Minister’s assurance that the Government will continue to adopt a science-based approach. But Total Allowable Catches are ultimately political decisions, albeit informed by scientific advice, and replacing the current structures for negotiating TACs for shared stocks will be critical in order to deliver the UK and the EU’s commitments to fishing sustainably.

104.However the Government approaches fisheries management after Brexit, it must resist the political temptation to set TACs above the scientific recommendations. Ministers should therefore be under an obligation to set and negotiate TACs that are aligned with the scientific advice, and that will deliver the Maximum Sustainable Yield.

Dividing the TAC: allocating quotas

105.Even if TACs for shared stocks are agreed, the challenge, according to Prof Churchill, will be “how that [TAC] is divided up between the UK and the EU in the future”.181 Fishing for Leave argued that relative stability182 was an “EU construct”, which would cease to apply upon withdrawal: “There will be nothing to negotiate—all the resources defined in UK waters currently held by other EU member states and allocated under an EU system will automatically return to the UK.”183 The Angling Trust, on the other hand, cautioned that: “Unilateral renegotiation of relative stability by the UK would only result in unsustainable fishing.”184 Mr Farnell concurred.185

106.The Minister recognised that, when allocating TACs outside the EU, “it is harder to sometimes reach agreement at all”.186 By way of example, he mentioned the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), where disagreement over the management of mackerel meant that “everybody was unilaterally setting their own TACs because they could not agree an allocation.” Consequently, he noted, NEAFC was looking to establish a broad formula that could overcome this difficulty and “calculate the allocations, so you do not go into it as a straightforward haggling match every year”.

Contested allocations

107.Industry representatives told us that the current relative stability mechanism was unfair and disadvantaged the UK. Mr Deas told us that there were “gross anomalies in the quota share arrangements”, referencing cod in the English Channel as an example. Here, he said, the UK received only 9% of the stock, while France received 84%, despite the fact that most of the catches were made in UK waters.187 Mr Armstrong concurred, noting that the current system was “a snap-shot in time”, which needed updating.188 The Minister agreed that the UK allocation was not fair: “Particularly in the Channel and the west country, on some species, I think it is generally accepted that historically we have ended up with a disproportionately small share of a stock given that a great deal of it is caught in our waters.”189

108.The SIA argued that “Declaration of a UK 200 mile EEZ would … fundamentally alter the assumptions on which the current allocation key was based.” They added: “It is therefore difficult to see how renegotiation [of relative stability] could be avoided”.190 Dr Stewart and the SIA also pointed out that exogenous effects, such as climate change and temperature fluctuations, had led to changes in the distribution of stocks and their migration patterns, necessitating a revision of the current quota allocations.191 The NEF agreed: “The failure of relative stability to reflect either the current fishing patterns of EU Member States or the changing biological patterns of fish stocks has long been a complaint of many EU Member States.”192 Witnesses therefore agreed that in exiting the EU, the UK would have an opportunity to assess and renegotiate the proportion of quotas for shared stocks which are allocated to the UK, replacing relative stability with a new allocation mechanism.193

109.Though many witnesses agreed the UK should address inequalities in the current quota allocations, several cautioned that such an exercise should reflect the fact that many stocks do not occur exclusively in the UK EEZ.194 The Marine Conservation Society reminded us that “Fish know nothing of political borders.”195 Dr Stewart, asked whether there was such a thing as British fish, replied: “It is fair to say that the majority of stocks, especially the ones that are regulated by quotas, definitely are shared stocks and that is why we have a need to continue shared management.”196

110.By way of example, Dr Stewart explained that in the North Sea and English Channel “the majority of spawning and nursery grounds of plaice and sole are outside the UK EEZ (e.g. in French, Belgium and Dutch waters) … Juvenile fish in those areas are too small to contribute to the commercial fishery at that time, but ultimately the wider commercial fishery relies on them.” Therefore, he argued: “Those countries are likely to justifiably raise this point during any discussions about quota shares.”197 He also told us that “most of the fish species which are targeted by the fisheries currently managed by the EU are highly mobile and may cross through the waters of several different countries, even during a single year”.

111.The perception of unfairness in the proportion of catches made in the UK EEZ allocated to UK fishers gains some support from a recent report by the NAFC Marine Centre at the University of the Highlands and Islands, which was carried out at the request of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) to determine, so far as is possible using available data, the quantity of fish caught within the UK’s EEZ by fishing boats of other EU Member States; and, the quantity of fish caught by UK fishing boats elsewhere in the EU’s EEZ. This report estimated that in the period 2012–2014 European Union fishing vessels (including UK vessels) landed, on average, 1.1 million tonnes of fish and shellfish annually that had been caught within what would constitute the UK EEZ.198 The report found that, on average, fishing vessels from EU countries other than the UK landed 58% of that volume (equal to some £400 million or 43% of the value of all landings from the UK EEZ).199 In a supplementary report it was estimated that “The fish and shellfish caught in the UK EEZ by non-UK EU fishing boats represented about 15% of the total (global) landings by the EU fishing fleet.”200 Conversely, during the same period UK vessels fishing in non-UK EU waters on average landed 90,000 tonnes, worth £103 million.201 Defra’s best estimate202 was that in 2014 UK vessels landed 557,000 tonnes of fish caught within the UK EEZ, worth £614 million in revenue, and 144,000 tonnes, worth £155 million, from non-UK EU waters and third countries such as Norway.203 We note that estimates reported to us by witnesses used varying methodologies and measurements: some reported the value of landings made by UK vessels over 15 metres from non-UK EU waters,204 while the Minister included third countries in his estimates.205 Despite these differences, the estimates give support to the notion that EU vessels benefit from the current level of access to fishing in the UK EEZ. They also give an indication of the value of current access arrangements to UK vessels.

112.Dr Stewart, in written evidence, noted: “Landing statistics are just that—they only indicate where fish were landed from, not necessarily where they are at different times and in what abundance, especially at different life history stages.”206

113.Writing ahead of the referendum, Dr Stewart and Paul G Fernandez, Reader in Fisheries Science at the University of Aberdeen, analysed the UK’s quota allocations under relative stability. They found that, of the 73 different fish stocks that live in UK waters and are managed through EU quotas, the UK was allocated 585,211 tonnes, amounting to 30% of the overall quotas.207 This analysis was quoted to us by Fishing for Leave as evidence that under relative stability the majority of fish stocks in UK waters are allocated to the EU and, they argued, illustrated how much the UK would gain after Brexit.208 It is beyond the scope of this report to assess what proportion of quotas should rightfully belong to the UK, though we note that, as set out above, the allocation of fish to geographical waters is not as simple as it might at first sight appear.

114.The Minister told us that “the industry have it right in that some of the allocation and share that we have … notably plaice and sole in the Channel, and notably cod and haddock in the Celtic Sea, is incredibly low given the amount of it that is actually caught in our waters”. He added that “in the North Sea, it is generally accepted that we have an allocation which would be considered fair”, referencing “valuable and important” stocks such as mackerel, cod and haddock. But, he added: “When you look at something like the Celtic Sea, if you looked at what would be otherwise known as our EEZ, the truth is we get a relatively small share of the total allowable catch.”209

115.He acknowledged that had the UK voted to remain in the EU, the Government would have pushed for a revision of relative stability.210 It thus seems clear that the Government will seek to renegotiate quota allocations.

116.The extent to which Brexit will lead to higher quotas for UK fishers of stocks that are shared with other countries will be a matter for negotiations with the EU and neighbouring states. In withdrawing from the EU the Government could negotiate a new allocation of quotas for shared stocks to address the inequalities described by witnesses in current distributions and address the changed distribution of stocks.

117.Landing data offer support to the argument that the UK receives a disproportionately small quota of stocks that are caught in the UK EEZ. But many stocks spend part of their lives in the EEZs of other countries and cannot be regarded as only ‘UK fish’. Failure to recognise that shared stocks require shared management could lead to overfishing and over-exploitation of these stocks. It will be crucial to seek science-based agreement on how such stocks are shared to ensure their long-term sustainable exploitation.

A new allocation mechanism

118.Prof Churchill suggested that the EU might prefer historic catch data as a starting point for a review of quota shares.211 Mr Deas suggested the allocation should “reflect the catches made within the UK zone”.212 Dr Appleby argued that a new calculation mechanism “would be based around the fecundity of UK waters”.213

119.Another approach, highlighted by the Angling Trust and Prof Churchill, could be the ‘zonal attachment’ that is used to determine the allocation of TACs between Norway and the EU.214 Zonal attachment is based on the spatial distribution of stocks over time and their various life stages.215 Dr Stewart also argued that an accurate allocation mechanism should take into account where fish were, and in what abundance, at different times and different life stages. This information could be obtained from research survey data.216

120.The NEF and Dr Stewart argued that the UK could pursue a structure that would ensure the stability of quota share allocations over a number of years, yet would also include a timetable for revisiting the allocations: the NEF suggested five-year cycles, while Dr Stewart proposed a 10-year review.217 Such an approach would mitigate the risk of negotiating an allocation mechanism that would become another ‘snap-shot in time’, thereby falling prey ultimately to the same flaws as relative stability. By including regular review cycles, the parties could address perceived inequalities and changes in fish stock distribution iteratively, preserving some degree of stability and avoiding what the Minister called the current “haggle”218 over allocating shares in coastal state negotiations that do not currently rely on any fixed mechanism.

121.Scientific evidence in this area is, however, scant. The Minister told us that, as part of the preparations for negotiations with the EU, he had commissioned an analysis of the zonal attachment of stocks in the UK EEZ, to determine which quota allocations were fair and which were not. This analysis, he told us, would “help to inform some of these discussions in future”.219

122.Scientific assessment of the time that stocks spend in a given EEZ, and at which point in their lifecycle, could provide a robust basis for negotiating a quota allocation that accurately reflects the proportion of shared stocks belonging to the UK and to other states. We therefore welcome the zonal attachment assessment commissioned by the Minister, which could inform negotiations with the EU over a new allocation mechanism for quota shares after Brexit.

123.Any new allocation mechanism for TAC shares could include a timetable for regular review, taking account of industry preferences, fish stock distributions and catch patterns. This approach would provide short-term stability, and facilitate agreement between the parties, while reducing the risk of distortion over time.

169 Written evidence from WWF (FBR0010), John Farnell (FBR0005), the Angling Trust (FBR0013), the IEEP (FBR0003) and the Marine Conservation Society (FBR0006); 3 (Prof Robin Churchill, Dr Bryce Stewart) and Q 4 (Prof Richard Barnes)

172 Q 5 (Prof Richard Barnes, Dr Bryce Stewart) and Q 17 (Bertie Armstrong, Barrie Deas, Hazel Curtis)

174 Written evidence from the Marine Conservation Society (FBR0006), the SIA (FBR0008), UKIP (FBR0009) and Fishing for Leave (FBR0002); Q 17

176 Written evidence from Fergus Ewing MSP (FBR0011)

179 Written evidence from the NEF (FBR0007)

182 See Box 3

183 Written Evidence from Fishing for Leave (FBR0002)

184 Written evidence from the Angling Trust (FBR0013)

185 Written evidence from John Farnell (FBR0005)

190 Written evidence from the SIA (FBR0008)

191 Written evidence from Dr Bryce Stewart (FBR0015) and the SIA (FBR0008)

192 Written evidence from the NEF (FBR0007)

193 Written evidence from the SIA (FBR0008), WWF (FBR0010) and the NEF (FBR0007); Q 1 (Dr Bryce Stewart), Q 12 (Barrie Deas) and Q 17 (Bertie Armstrong)

194 Written evidence from the Angling Trust (FBR0013), the Marine Conservation Society (FBR0006), the IEEP (FBR0003), the SIA (FBR0008) and John Farnell (FBR0005)

195 Written evidence from the Marine Conservation Society (FBR0006)

197 Written evidence from Dr Bryce Stewart (FBR0015)

198 NAFC Marine Centre, Fish Landings from the United Kingdom’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and UK Landings from the European Union’s EEZ, (11 October 2016), p6.The report was based on data from the Marine Management Organisation and the European Commission’s Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries. ICES statistical rectangles were classified as being inside or outside of the United Kingdom’s or European Union’s Exclusive Economic Zones. Where only part of a rectangle lay within an EEZ the proportion of the area of the rectangle that lay within the EEZ was estimated. The weights landed from the UK (or EU) EEZ each year were estimated by summing the weights from all of the statistical rectangles that fell within the EEZ. Where only part of a rectangle lay within an EEZ the proportion of the landings from that rectangle caught within the EEZ was assumed to be equal to the proportion of the area of the rectangle that lay within the EEZ. The values of landings were estimated by applying average values (price per tonne) from landings in the UK in 2014 to the weights estimated.

199 NAFC Marine Centre, Fish Landings from the United Kingdom’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and UK Landings from the European Union’s EEZ (11 October 2016), p 6:–10-11_final.pdf [accessed 5 December 2016]

200 NAFC Marine Centre, Fish Landings from the United Kingdom’s Exclusive Economic Zone: by area, nationality and species (11 November 2016), p 1–11-11_final.pdf [accessed 5 December 2016]

201 NAFC Marine Centre, Fish Landings from the United Kingdom’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and UK Landings from the European Union’s EEZ (11 October 2016), p 109

202 Defra noted that catches by vessels are reported by sea areas known as ICES rectangles, which are 0.5° of latitude and 1° of longitude. Defra has estimated the amount of landings caught within and outside the UK’s EEZ by UK vessels based on the rectangles. This is subject to uncertainty where the EEZs straddle an ICES rectangle. The best estimate is based on the logic that where the EEZ straddles an ICES rectangle, it is assumed that the proportion of catches reported in that ICES rectangle is the same as the proportion of the ICES rectangle within or outside the UK’s EEZ.

203 Written evidence from Defra (FBR0001)

204 Written evidence from the NEF (FBR0007) drawing on data from the Marine Management Organisation

206 Written evidence from Dr Bryce Stewart (FBR0015)

207 Paul G Fernandez, Dr Bryce Stewart, ‘Fact Check: is 80% of UK fish given away to the rest of Europe?’ The Conversation (April 14 2016):
[accessed 7 December 2016]; European Commission, Fishing TACs and quotas 2015: [accessed 7 December 2016]

208 Written evidence for Fishing for Leave (FBR0002)

213 Written evidence from Dr Thomas Appleby (FBR0012)

214 Written evidence from the Angling Trust (FBR0013); 3

215 Suzannah Walmsley, World Bank Group, ‘European Union Northern Agreements’ in Trade in fishing services: Emerging Perspectives on Foreign Fishing Arrangements (1 December 2014), pp 41-42: [accessed 5 December 2016]

216 Written evidence from Dr Bryce Stewart (FBR0015)

217 Written evidence from the NEF (FBR0007) and Dr Bryce Stewart (FBR0015)

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