Thursday, 12 September 2019

Brexit - views from both sides of the Channel.

In France, just as is currently happening in the UK with Defra and the MMO, there are a umber of meetings and presentations being made to inform and prepare the French fishing industry for Brexit.

Much of the discussions during these meetings focus on the legal issues surrounding the right to fish where and when and for what fish and how much - especially if there is no agreement and the UK leaves the EU without a deal on October 31st. French journal Nouvelle Republique reports on those meetings in an article below.

Before that, Plymouth based Ashfords marine and transport lawyer Charles Hattersley who has represented many people in the fishing industry over the years gives his assessment of the Brexit situation with all its uncertainties.

“Imminent departure from the EU Regulation regime does not, necessarily, mean freedom from international obligations and regulations.

Since 1972 the regulation of our seas has become both international and complex.

International EU and the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) together with other regional organisation laws complicates the variety of transnational legislation that has been put in place regulating the use of the seas and care of the marine environment.

In very broad terms the total catch in UK waters by north-UK EU vessels equates to about 15% of the total EU catch. The catch by UK vessels in non-UK EU waters is approximately 33% what the rest of the EU takes from our waters. Another useful fact is that most of what we catch we export. Most of what we eat in the UK we import. The complexity of the legislation can be illustrated as follows:

The Non East Atlantic Regional Sea Convention (known as OSPAR) coordinates environmental protection in the North Sea. Norway is not a member of the EU but membership of OSPAR and UNCLOS require both Norway and the EU to cooperate and negotiate in respect of any environmental matters.

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Marine Spatial Planning Directive both have legal clout and in each directive, it is mandatory that all parties cooperate and negotiate best possible solutions.

The UN Fish Stocks Agreement 1995 has the objective of conservation and long-term sustainability of high migratory stocks. It is mandatory to take measures to prevent over fishing – so there is an obligation on the UK to cooperate and avoid over fishing stock within an ecosystem.

The North East Atlantic Fishing Committee (NEAFC) was established in 1980. The EU is a member – together with others - but the UK is not. To gain access to NEAFC the UK will have to become a member and that is not going to be easy judging by the difficulty encountered by other applicants.(Editor: the UK was accepted on the NEAFC in October 2020)

Most importantly, UNCLOS makes it clear that coastal states must avoid over exploitation and sustain maximum sustainable yields and importantly, whether a ‘sub regional’ or ‘regional’ organisation, they are all are obliged and mandated to reach agreement for conservation of stocks [Articles 61 and 63].

Article 62 of UNCLOS is important because it is states that there is an international obligation to minimise “economic” dislocation – particularly where areas have been “habitually” fished. There can be no doubt that French, Dutch, Spanish, Belgium and other trawlers have been in UK waters over the last 40 years or so, and that their presence has been “habitual”. Accordingly there will, in my view, be what is known as ‘historic fishing rights’ and fishing may continue pending a determination of any dispute. The same will apply to English and Scottish vessels that regularly and frequently fish in other EU waters well within EU member states 200miles EEZs. As a result all EU members states with fishing fleets will, as a matter of international law, be mandated to negotiate access to and from each other’s EEZ. It is axiomatic that the UK will require and need access to EU waters and of course, vice versa. There must, under international law, be detailed negotiation in order to resolve access issues. As to the right to fish it seems unlikely that quotas will come to an end but the basis for quotas will probably remain on advice from ICES. It seems therefore that under NEAFC, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and for example the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the UK may have no alternative but to agree TAC’S between the EU and the UK. It may be that there will be an ‘effort limitation’ or ‘days at sea’ input to the TAC’s (Total Allowable Catch) but the clever money is on the retention of quota entitlement.
Lastly, as the UK will be wanting access to northern waters, as well as complying with OSPAR requirements, the UK will also have to negotiate direct with Norway in the absence of current membership of existing ‘Northern Agreements’ which have been negotiated by the EU (but not the UK).

Given the background complexity and range of obligations as a result of international conventions and regulations, negotiations must, self evidently, be detailed and comprehensive in order to achieve the result for which most of the fishing industry voted.

It will take considerable time and the use of very skilled and well-informed negotiators to achieve the correct result.

If properly managed and suitably funded, such negotiations should inure to the benefit of the UK fishing industry but - even if wholly successful - it is unlikely that such negotiations would be fully productive for say five to ten years, particularly in light of the legal requirement to avoid economic dislocation and also the amount and intensity of habitually fished areas over the last 47 years. At the very least there is bound to be a short term adjustment to the current import/export ratios referred to above.

Charles Hattersley, partner in Ashfords LLP, Plymouth.

This recent report from France follows:

The fishing industry is holding its State of the Seas in Granville: a conference to raise awareness of a profession worried about the implementation of Brexit.

In Granville, in the English Channel, the Assises de la Mer opened on Thursday, bringing together all the players in the fishing industry, from production to distribution and processing.

For two days, wholesalers, processing companies, distributors (wholesalers, medium and large supermarkets, collective catering, catering, fish groups), French and European administrations, local authorities, NGOs and service companies (consulting, certification, financial services) share their experiences and define the challenges of tomorrow.

This meeting is also an opportunity to take stock of the economic situation of the fishing industry. The timing of the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union is a major concern.

"These meetings are the annual high mass of fishing. It's a general meeting , " says Soazig Palmer-Le Gall, president of the Directorate of Bigouden Armament located at Gilvinec (Finistère) and president of the board of directors of the Producers Organization Les Pêcheurs de Bretagne (Finistère, Ile -et-Vilaine, Côtes-d'Armor, Morbihan and Loire-Atlantique).

"Four jobs on shore for a job at sea"

"What concerns the industry today is Brexit. " And explain in theory the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) extending up to 200 miles offshore (about 370 km) are European. So open to all European fishermen. Restriction of an area of ​​12 miles (just over 22 km) which are national waters reserved for inshore and small-scale fisheries (with some exceptions). Non-EU countries (Norway, Faroe Islands, Iceland ...) share this regulation.

"All European countries have fishing quotas, set by the European Union, by species and by zones," says Soazig Palmer-Le Gall, who points out that these quotas have made it possible to manage species and avoid overfishing. Measures, in the nineties, that were instituted in pain ...

"These fishing areas straddle national waters. The quotas concern 59 species for which, in 2020, the maximum sustainable yield will be reached. There are 81 non-quota species such as monkfish, cod or Norway lobster . Among the quota fish: haddock, hake, skate, sole, or whiting.

"If Brexit is done without agreement, overnight we will not be able to go fishing in the waters of the United Kingdom where 30% of our national fishery comes from because the English EEZ, located on the continental shelf, is very fishy. And as long as there is no agreement, we will not be able to go. Our boats will stay at the dock where we will all end up fishing in a small area. The consequences will be equally difficult for the British: they will no longer be able to sell their fish without customs duties and border controls. But 80% of their catch is sold in Europe! "

Admittedly, the European Union has provided aid to offset the shortfall. "Even if we have financial compensation, what we prefer is to be at sea, not at the dock. And we must not forget that the fishing activity generates four jobs on land for employment at sea. Locally, the situation will be very difficult. For everyone. "

Brexit and its consequences will be at the heart of the Prentations. Although the objective of the event is to promote an image that has been tarnished, but that the profession has sought to restore, including in terms of sustainable management of species fished. And there is still work: despite the establishment a few years ago of a Pavillon France brand, intended to promote fish caught by French armaments, a quarter of the French admits to know no fish species from the fishing, according to a survey of France fishing industry.

Key numbers

  • Quantities sold in 2016: 698,000 tonnes (465 t for fishing, 192 t for shellfish farming and 41 t for fish farming).
  • In 2016, the sector recorded 2.7 billion euros in sales (1.9 billion for fishing, 657 million for shellfish farming and 168 million for fish farming).
  • Fresh and frozen fishery sales by region in 2018: Brittany 255 million euros for 76,810 t; Normandy 91 M for 37,113 t; Pays de la Loire 96 M for 19,280 t; New Aquitaine 81 M for 15,873 t; Occitanie 34 M for 7.718 t: Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur 6 M for 1.442 tons.
  • Employment: 13,536 jobs of fishermen on board French ships in 2016 (excluding shellfish farming); 8,305 jobs for shellfish farming, marine fish farming sturgeon and salmon farming.
  • Companies: 4,457 retail fishmongers (in 2016) for 1 billion turnover and 9,702 jobs. Mareyage (in 2016): 278 companies with a workforce of 5,945 employees. Transformation activity (in 2017): 199 companies, 4.7 billion of turnover and 13,996 jobs.
  • The fleet represents 7,855 boats (4,417 in mainland France and 3,438 in the overseas departments). More than 80% of the metropolitan fleet concerns vessels of less than 10 m and engaged in small-scale fishing (less than 24 hours at sea).
  • France imports almost 6 billion euros of seafood and exports 1.6 billion.
  • France supplies 41% of its immediate neighbours in the European Union: the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. But the biggest comes from outside the EU: Norway, Ecuador, USA, Iceland and China.


  • The CFP (Common Fisheries Policy) sets out a series of rules to manage the European fishing fleet and preserve fish stocks. It gives the entire fleet equal access to waters and fishing grounds.
  • Over the last twenty years, the capacity of the EU fishing fleet has decreased: the number of vessels in 2017 was 83,117 (20,717 fewer than in 1996), of which 6,207 in the UK and 6,567 in La France.
  • In 2016, consumption in Europe amounted to 12.41 million tonnes of fish and shellfish, or about 24 kg per inhabitant. But consumption varies: 57 kg per inhabitant in Portugal, 5.2 kg per inhabitant in Hungary.
  • Annual spending on seafood by EU households is more than 100 per capita, a quarter of the amount spent on meat.
  • The main products consumed are tuna (mostly canned), cod, salmon, pollock, shrimp, mussels and herring.
  • The EU is the world's fifth largest producer of fisheries and aquaculture products, and in 2016 covered around 3% of world production (5.6% for catches and 1.2% for aquaculture) .
  • In France, there are 37 auctions: Le Guilvinec, Lorient, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Les Sables-d'Olonne and Erquy cover 41% of the value of the first auctions.
  • In 2015, 12,073 people were employed in the French fish processing industry
Full story courtesy of La Nouvelle Republique