It’s Scotland’s fish…

Fisheries is such a major issue in the UK-EU negotiations and a trade deal could be scuppered if an agreement is not reached between the two sides, a new academic report published by The UK in a Changing Europe think tank finds.

This is despite the fact that fishing represents only 0.1 per cent of UK gross value added (GVA) and for most EU member states, fishing amounts to 0.1% or less of their economic output.

After transition, the UK wants to assert its rights as an independent coastal state and negotiate annually with the EU; the EU wants to preserve access as now – after four negotiating rounds there is stalemate.

Many UK fishers, particularly in Scotland, will benefit from additional fishing rights if the UK gets its way. But others risk losing access to EU markets if there is no wider trade deal. The EU has said an agreement on fish is a precondition of that deal. 

The report, Fisheries and Brexit, which looks at the economic and political significance of the fishing industry for the UK and the EU, finds:

  • The UK and EU need each other’s markets – UK consumers tend to eat fish caught by EU fishers and many UK fishers depend on exports to the EU (~80% of UK fish landings are exported): this could be disrupted if there are tariffs on fish after 31 December 2020-(when transition ends)
  • If the UK and the EU fail to reach a deal by the end of the year they would be bound by international law – the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
  • The UK contributed 14% of the overall catch in the EU in 2017; Spain (17.5%), Denmark (16.9%) and France (9.7%)
  • the fish-processing sector is larger than the fish-catching sector in the UK by both GVA (£794 million versus £505 million) and employment (19,191 full-time employees versus 9,588).
  • when the UK leaves the common fisheries policy, the four nations of the UK will have to agree how to manage the UK fisheries in the future.  This could lead to further tensions between the UK government and the devolved governments.
  • Fishing activity varies across the UK. For example, fishing is more important to the Scottish and Northern Irish economies than to England
  • 60% of the total value of fish landed in the UK is in Scotland and it accounts for over half the fish caught in the UK (445,000 tonnes compared with 248,000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Professor Anand Menon, director of The UK in a Changing Europe, said: “That Brexit has been an intensely political process has been clear for some time, but the prominence of fisheries in the negotiations underlines the point. It is remarkable that a failure to agree on this issue might derail the whole negotiation.”

Dr Christopher Huggins, senior lecturer in Politics at the University of Suffolk and one of the report’s authors, said: “With all the political prominence fisheries has received and much of the rhetoric around it, it’s easy to overlook the complexity involved.

“Securing success in the negations and ensuing fisheries policy works effectively after the transition depends on carefully managing a range of competing political, legal, economic and environmental issues and a range of interests and voices within the industry itself. This report sheds light on these.”