The UK fishing industry has been vocal about the opportunities leaving the EU could provide, and after UK fishing boats clashed with French boats in a so-called scallop war last week it is clear that tension between UK fishermen and their EU counterparts are high.
The “scallop war” began after about 40 French boats tried to stop five larger British boats from fishing 12 miles off the Normandy coast.
No one was hurt but fishing boats collided and stones were thrown as anger rises between the two groups, but does it signal what is to come as Brexit negotiations continue?
Jim Portus from the South West Fish Producers Organisation told talkRADIO that the UK is going to have to “grow a pair” in relation to our waters once the UK leaves the European Union as questions are raised about where fishermen will have the right to fish.
Mr Portus said: “Of course we’re going to have to grow a pair as they say, and make sure we’re in a position to do precisely the same in relation to our waters.
“Of course we don’t go inside their 12 mile limit, that’s what the irony of this is.
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“French fishermen have been welcome between 6 miles and 12 miles around Devon and Cornwall particularly, and their vessels have been coming into those waters since the 1960s and they want that to continue after Brexit.
“We’ve never been inside their 12 mile limit and they’re being really precious about a resource that is in international waters - on this occasion, and quite frankly, they don’t have right on their side.”
But, what will be the effect of a no-deal Brexit be? And will UK fishermen still be able to fish in EU waters?
Barrie Deas, the Chief Executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations answers some of these questions.
What are some of the major things to change after Brexit?
“The Common Fisheries Policy has worked to the UK’s disadvantage because of the terms that were agreed back in 1973 when the UK entered what would have then been the EEC. The principle of equal access was insisted on by the Europeans and that gives their fleets access to UK waters where a large amount of resources are located," says Deas.
“We have been disadvantaged in comparison to the status of an independent coastal state - quite seriously. The thing that will change when the UK leaves the EU is that the UK will automatically become an independent coastal state that is under the United Nations law of the sea.
“The UK will have the responsibility of managing the resources within its exclusive economic zone that is 200 miles out or the median line. It is a huge change and gives us the opportunity to rebalance the quota share to determine who fishes in UK waters and to tailor the management to our fleets, to make it work for us.
“The significant figure is that the European fleets fish about six times as much in UK waters as we fish in EU waters.”
What will happen to fishing if we leave the European Union without a deal?
Fishermen protest the Common Fisheries policy in Whitstable in April. Image: Getty
“On the fishing rights side of things, it is very clear what happens. The UK immediately in March 2019 becomes an independent coastal state. I think what will happen then is that the EU and the UK will have to talk about what sort of fisheries regime will apply because there is an obligation under international law for us to manage shared stocks collaboratively," explains Deas.
“The model for this is already there, it is the way that the EU and Norway already work together, every autumn there are meetings - scientific advice on stocks is presented, total annual catches are set, total shares are set - and access to each others waters is agreed. But it is an agreement and there has to be an negotiation.
“As far as fishing rights are concerned, I think we enter the new world a bit quicker than if there was a transitional arrangement. I think that would work very much to the UK’s advantage. On the market side it is not so clear what would happen, obviously there is possibility of disruption - for tariffs to apply, for non-tariff barriers to be there - obviously that is a concern for us.”
Will Brexit affect what fish consumers can buy?
“The UK consumer tends to like the bland fish we buy from the north, cod from Norway and Iceland. They are the big fisheries, and haddock from the North Sea.
“I think there will be arrangements with these countries and I can’t see much change. There would have to be new agreements but I am pretty sure that would take place.
“For some of the more exotic species, high-value crab and lobster, the demand there is really from the EU and we would have to see what trade arrangements would emerge in those circumstances and what tariffs would apply.
“At the moment it is very unclear, we don’t know what tariff regimes and we don’t know what tariff barriers will apply. There are concerns about that.”
Will UK fishermen benefit from removing EU quotas after Brexit?
“I think it depends on what type of fisherman you are," says Deas.
"The fishing industry is extremely diverse in terms of target species, gear used, size of vessel, location. It is very varied and the views on what will happen after the UK leaves the EU varies depending on the type of fishing you do.
“For example, if you are a cod fisherman where the UK share is 9% and the French share is 84%, we are obviously looking for something a bit fairer than that. Similarly in the West Country where the French have 66% of the haddock, and the UK share is around 10%.
“We are looking for significant improvements in quota shares there. Overall we are looking for the opportunity to get out from underneath the Common Fisheries Policy which is very cumbersome, very centralised and top-down kind of management system. It has not covered itself in glory over the years so we would be optimistic about getting out from under that.
“If you are a crab fisherman in Bridlington there are not very many pluses in leaving the Common Fisheries Policy. It is not a quota species and it is fished fairly locally. There might be some control over competition and gear conflict issues but generally there is not much to gain and lots to fear. It depends very much on what kind of fishing you are involved in and where on the coast you doing it.”
What is really happening with the “scallop wars” between the UK and France?
“Brexit may have affected the mindset to some extent but it is also a breakdown of an agreement that has been in place for a number of years where larger UK vessels stayed out of that area during the French closed season, but they have a legal right to be there.
“The reason why the agreement broke down is a bit obscure - there was a change of personnel and certainly a change of attitude, they are a bit more hardline this year. There was no agreement so UK fishermen were allowed to fish there. What was unacceptable was the intimidation and violence involved in the French response.
“The local French fishermen said ‘come Brexit, British vessels will no longer have access to that area’ and that is quite true but overall, further along the coast the French benefit immensely from British waters. A huge percentage of their catch is taken in UK waters so if we just fished in our own waters and they fished in their’s, France would be a huge loser.
“The EU are doing everything possible to stick to something as close to quota shares in terms of access to our waters in the forthcoming negotiations. They want to keep things as they are because it benefits them enormously and disadvantages the UK. It is very important that our government sticks to its guns and resists that, because the UK automatically becomes an independent coastal state and have control over its own waters.”