Date laid: 8 March 2019
Parliamentary procedure: negative
These Regulations make provisions to enable the licensing of fishing boats from outside the UK for fishing in English waters after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the instrument replicates the approach taken in the Fisheries Bill and has been laid in case the Fisheries Bill does not receive Royal Assent by exit day. Similar legislation has been taken forward for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The draft Regulations are drawn to the special attention of the House on the ground that they give rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.
1.The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has laid these Regulations before Parliament under the negative procedure, alongside an Explanatory Memorandum (EM). The main purpose of the instrument is to enable the licensing of fishing boats from outside the UK for fishing in English waters after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. According to Defra, the instrument replicates the approach taken in the Fisheries Bill, which is currently before Parliament. It has been laid in case the Fisheries Bill does not receive Royal Assent by exit day.
2.The EM explains that UK fisheries are currently managed under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which establishes the objectives for the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources. Under the relevant EU regulations, EU vessels that are licensed by their respective Member State to fish within EU waters have equal access to all EU waters and resources within the 12-200 nautical miles zone (measured from Member State baselines).
3.When the UK leaves the EU and the CFP, EU vessels will no longer have automatic access rights, or licences, to fish in UK waters. The UK, as an independent coastal state, will be responsible for managing its fisheries and marine environment.
4.The EM sets out that, under section 4 of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967, fishing within British waters by fishing vessels without the authority of a licence issued by Ministers is prohibited. While this only applies to British registered fishing vessels at present, Ministers may, by order, prohibit fishing by foreign vessels in British waters if they do not have a licence. The EM states that these powers are devolved.
5.According to Defra, this instrument will make it illegal for foreign vessels to fish within English waters without the authority of a licence, and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will act as the single authority for issuing foreign vessel licences on behalf of all UK administrations. The Department says that as part of this licensing regime, foreign vessels will be required to comply with specific conditions attached to their licence for fishing within English waters which may include, for example, vessel monitoring systems and catch and position reporting. The licencing system will also allow the MMO, as the enforcement authority, to introduce closed areas or specific gear requirements on the basis of scientific advice. Foreign vessels fishing in English waters without a licence will be liable to enforcement action and possible prosecution. The EM states that the MMO will require new staff and updating of IT systems to carry out its new role. Defra told us that “[s]taff have been recruited to issue licences and the IT system to manage this is now in place”.
6.The Department emphasises that without the instrument it would not be possible to license fishing by foreign vessels within English waters, including as part of any international fisheries agreements that the UK may conclude with other coastal states after EU exit, and to manage marine resources effectively and sustainably.
7.Defra says that its preferred approach is to introduce the licensing powers through the Fisheries Bill, so that there is a consistent approach across the UK. While the Fisheries Bill had its second reading on 21 November 2018 and completed its Commons Committee stage on 17 December 2018, this instrument replicates the approach taken in the Bill in case the Bill does not gain Royal Assent before the UK leaves the EU. The Department told us that in order to achieve UK-wide consistency in the absence of a Bill, the devolved administrations have laid similar legislation to come into force by exit day that will enable them to manage the access of foreign fishing vessels to their waters.
8.We asked the Department about any potential impact of the new licensing regime for English waters on the fishing rights of vessels from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Defra told us that “vessels from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently have the right to fish in each other’s waters and this will not change. The Fisheries Bill will enshrine this principle.”
9.Fishing by foreign vessels in UK waters after EU exit is a politically significant issue. The House may wish to be aware that this instrument, which has been laid under the negative procedure, makes provisions for the licensing and control of foreign fishing vessels in English waters in case the Fisheries Bill does not receive Royal Assent by exit day. Given the political significance, we draw the instrument to the special attention of the House on the ground that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.