Brexit will not solve the concerns Scotland’s fishing communities

Post by Vanessa Glynn, former EMiS Chair

Some in UK, and particularly Scottish, coastal communities voted Leave in the belief that escaping from the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy would give them back control of seas around the UK coast, prevent fishing quota being given to non-UK trawlers and lead to greater prosperity for UK fisheries. They are likely to be disappointed.

  • The EU has not “pinched our fish.” Through the CFP the 28 Member States manage the fishing resources of seas across the EU. Annual catch quotas are not imposed but negotiated by all 28 Fisheries Ministers, including the UK’s, each year. The biggest issue is the need to conserve fish stocks. It is absurd to suggest that migratory stocks can be satisfactorily managed by independent national governments. The case for collective management for Fisheries is overwhelming. Scotland has a strong record of contributing to EU policy e.g. via Cod Conservation effort.
  • UK fishing has not reduced because of CFP: UK’s share of the overall EU fishing catch grew between 2004 and 2014. In 2004 the UK had the fourth largest catch of any EU country at 652,000 tonnes, by 2014 this had grown to 752,000 tonnes and the second largest catch in the EU. The big British fishing companies and the big boats are now the most prosperous in Europe, with record revenues in 2017 and operating profits averaging 25%.
  • It is the small-scale fishing boats who are struggling with operating profits close to zero. This is due not to competition from European boats but to the failure of UK governments to challenge the “eating up” of quotas by big fishing interests. Two-fifths of the entire Scottish catch by value, and 65% by tonnage, was landed by 19 powerful super-trawlers in 2016. Small-scale coastal fishermen, who operate 80% of Scottish boats, have to make do with 1% of quotas.
  • The Leave campaign promised that outside the CFP the UK would be able to take back control as an independent coastal state, like Norway or Iceland. However, UK will never have unfettered control. UK territorial waters include an area of the Atlantic that has traditionally – way before the CFP existed – been fished by Spanish vessels, just as Scots traditional fishing rights in Norwegian seas are respected in annual negotiations. Also, the foreign ownership of quota, known as quota-hopping, is a long standing practice whereby countries sell their own quota to firms from another country. Those fishing rights were bought in good faith, if we were to seek to confiscate those rights, retaliation would be inevitable.
  • A recent article in The Times suggests that even if the UK was to gain full control over the fish stocks in its waters, so much of the quota has been sold by UK fisherman that leaving the CFP will not make much of a difference. If the UK was to restrict or even end quota-hopping, then the impact on a number of UK ports and their supporting economies would be significant. Despite the vessels not being UK-owned, they are still landing a valuable resource in the UK.
  • Can Government be trusted on fishing? Electorally, the Conservatives did well in a number of Scotland’s coastal constituencies in the 2017 election, winning seats from the SNP. The transition deal which leaves UK in CFP diminishes their credibility when claiming to be able to deliver for fishing communities in these areas. Mundell and Davidson have staked their reputation on coming out of CFP at end of transition, and claim to have private assurances from the PM. But May has declined to confirm this publicly. That’s because…
  • Fisheries will be subjugated to the wider economic interests of the UK in the negotiations with the EU. Fisheries is only one piece of a complex jigsaw. A deal for access for the UK to EU markets in return for the continuation of quota-hopping, for example, is a realistic prospect. Already EU27 states have demanded access to UK waters in return for a prolonged customs relationship.
  • Fish industry not just about fishing. Fish and seafood processing, a huge industry in Scotland, needs tariff-free and frictionless access to EU markets. And needs EU labour. Brexit will damage this industry for no gain to fishing communities.


John Home Robertson, Former Scottish Fisheries Minister Craig McAngus, University of the West of Scotland

John Lichfield, Former EU correspondent, The Guardian


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