Monday, 15 March 2021

More questions than answers?

 Are we any the wiser - read, or listen to the detail, the devil is everywhere.

At the most recent event we heard from government and fishing authorities on what The Fisheries Act 2020 and the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) mean for the UK’s fishing industry. The event explored the practical details and likely changes to be brought about by these landmark shifts.

The panel consisted of Rt Hon George Eustice MP, Secretary of State (SoS) for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Anne Freeman, Deputy Director of Domestic fisheries and Reform at Defra. The meeting was chaired by Sheryll Murray MP.

A full recording of the online event can be found here:

Following the speakers’ presentations, pre-submitted questions from Parliamentarians and attendees were put to the panel. Written summaries of these questions and the given answers are provided below. Please note that these answers reflect the views of the panelists rather than the APPG Secretariat or its Members.


The inshore fleet has expressed disappointment at the failure to secure exclusive access to the 6-12-mile zone. Given that future amendments to the agreement after the adjustment period are likely to result in social or economic penalties to the UK, will there be the possibility of excluding EU vessels from the 6-12 mile zone without significant repercussions for the UK?

The SoS said that the short answer is yes, and that changes will be made following the end of the adjustment period in just over 5 years’ time. He understood the inshore fleet’s disappointment, sympathising that the 6-12 mile zone should be predominantly for UK fishermen. The SoS said that following this 5-year period, the government would continue to push for control of our waters, even if this means accepting the possible scenario of EU export tariffs (since the tariffs are more modest on fish than on other sectors).

The SoS continued by addressing current actions, stating that more technical conservation measures are currently under review, enabling more control over vessels wishing to enter the 6-12 mile zone.

As laid out in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, it seems that as long as Total Allowable Catch is set for a stock, then access to that area for EU vessels will follow, even after the adjustment period ends in mid-2026. With this in mind, how can the UK increase its quota share, besides through international swaps?

The SoS first stated that international swaps are to be used in the interim adjustment period. During this period, and in the absence of an agreement of the Total Allowable Catch for a stock, ICES advice becomes the basis for allocation.

Beyond this 5-year period, the SoS noted, there will be nothing to prevent the UK from changing access. Once these access agreements have been changed, he said, it becomes evident who has the fish in their waters, and those who seek access in said waters will have to accept certain concessions.

Will fishing authorities be enforcing the 12-mile rule, which states that UK-registered vessels with crew under transit visas cannot fish within 12 miles of shore, to aid the inshore fleet? There are reports that the Border Force is not adequately enforcing the rules.

Anne Freeman said that this is a matter for the Border Force and she could not comment. She said that fisheries authorities around the UK do cooperate on this matter.

There is increasing scientific evidence and NGO pressure in favour of no-take zones such as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HMPAs), but the fishing industry are also facing large area exclusions due to the construction of offshore renewables. What is the best way to deal with the cumulative effects of these two different types of exclusions post-Brexit?

Anne Freeman stated that her answers are in relation to England only. She appreciated the spatial challenges facing all marine users and followed on to say that more needs to be done to improve the marine environment. One way to do this is through cooperation to galvanise evidence-based action through clear communication and involvement of all interested parties. She said there is indeed appetite in Defra to do this, particularly regarding offshore wind. Anne noted that HMPAs and MPAs can have beneficial impacts on fish stocks and can therefore help the catch sector.


Given that it was repeatedly stated that fishing access would not be linked to a wider trade deal, why did the UK government sacrifice this ‘red line’, leading to widespread disappointment among fishing communities?

The Secretary of State (SoS) maintained that it had been initially hoped that the issues of fishing access and the wider trade deal could be dealt with separately. However, the SoS said the Prime Minister did not want to walk away with no deal, and instead chose to reach a compromise. The SoS continued to emphasise the significant uplift in quota, albeit it not as much as had been hoped.

Has an estimate been made of the net benefits of Brexit quota increases when factors such as paper fish, loss of the Hague Preference, loss of opportunities for e.g. Greenland’s waters, loss of markets and cost of health certificates and other non-tariff barriers are taken into account?

Anne Freeman responded to say that BEIS (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) ministers have confirmed that these estimates have not been made, but that impact assessments on any secondary legislation under the new Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) would be made in due course, in the usual way.

Is the government considering the reinstatement of the 1988 Merchant Shipping Act, to ensure that UK quota is owned by vessels that land in the UK, rather than just carrying the UK flag?

After recognising the importance of this issue to many in the sector, Anne Freeman noted that Defra fully intends for more fish to be landed in the UK. The government does not believe it is necessary to reinstate the Merchant Shipping Act. For England, the UK Government is looking to strengthen the licence conditions for English registered and licensed vessels to prove a stronger economic link to the UK. A consultation had been undertaken late last year, with the response to be published shortly. There was a delicate balance, she added, as the government does not want to discourage foreign investment in the UK, or destabilise the fishing industry at this critical stage.

Anne Freeman additionally pointed out that the allocation of existing quota will remain the same, with consultations underway on how the additional quota will be distributed. No property rights will accrue from additional quota.

Can the under-10m sector be assured that any new fishing quota as a result of Brexit is not simply allocated to larger vessels (as it was within the Fixed Quota Allocation system), but is rather used to support the under-10m fleet?

The SoS said that any new quota - additional to what was allocated through Relative Stability - will be distributed in a new way. He said the government intends to make this additional quota available to the inshore pool, alongside ensuring quota is allocated according to what is actually fished.

The SoS also went on to mention the toughened economic link conditions, reporting that consultation on this has recently concluded and that vessels fishing in UK waters (including foreign-owned vessels) will, in future, need to land at least 70% of their quota in the UK, or forfeit this quota for redistribution (potentially to the inshore fleet).

Will the newly allocated UK quota for bluefin tuna be accessible to all vessels in relevant sea areas? Currently, the lack of quota means that this species and others in the same area are unable to be targeted, despite there being a strong market.

Anne Freeman first acknowledged the huge interest in this issue, from commercial, recreational and scientific standpoints. Anne then went on to emphasise tuna’s vulnerability from a conservation perspective, noting that although the UK has secured a small quota for Eastern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna under the TCA (still being formalised between EU, UK and ICCAT), care must be taken over next steps.


It is understood that the UK Government has offered a six-month period of grace to EU seafood imports to deal with new paperwork and so on. Why was this grace period not reciprocated for UK exporters?

Anne Freeman said this is a matter for the EU, rather than the UK. She pointed out that the UK decided to phase in border controls on EU seafood imports, to give businesses time to adjust.

Will the Government work with the EU to streamline the shipping of live shellfish so that it can reach the market within one to two days, as it has done in the past?

The SoS confirmed the UK is ready for this discussion. He highlighted the difficulty of the EU’s political stance and acknowledged that adjusting to EU export requirements (particularly paperwork) has been a learning curve for businesses and border officials alike.

Continuing, the SoS noted the possibility of a future discussion with the EU about a veterinary partnership agreement. Such an agreement would reflect the fact there is no public health or animal health risk from shellfish leaving the UK. Finally, the SoS added that the EU’s export process, particularly with regard to certification requirements, is relatively outdated, and could be better refined in this digital age.


What measures is the Government taking to ensure a viable future for the UK’s distant waters fishing fleet?

Anne Freeman confirmed framework agreements had been signed with Norway and the Faroe Islands which stipulated annual bilateral negotiations for access to fishing opportunities. She said two UK vessels are currently fishing off Svalbard. As for other opportunities, Anne stated that these will be dependent on the outcome of ongoing negotiations.

How might we maximise the opportunities for international partnership working opened up by the Fisheries Act and Brexit, and to what extent will we be able to work internationally with the EU to ensure a common worldwide approach to sustainable fishing?

The SoS underlined the UK’s renewed sovereignty and that the UK will continue to work constructively with other key countries. He said that leaving the EU gives the UK the ability to rejoin, and better speak its own mind at, Regional Fisheries Management Organisations around the world. He went on to say that the UK now represents itself (for example, in negotiations with the Faroes) which was not previously the case. The SoS said that we have already joined NAFO (Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation) and NEAFC (North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission), and will rejoin ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) as ‘ourselves’.


When will the fishing industry be able to access the £100 million fund promised by the government?

Anne Freeman said that the short answer is soon. She said that Defra is working through the details, but that the funding will be available in the next financial year. She added that the Prime Minister is committed to providing this investment to rejuvenate the UK’s coastal communities.