Brexit brings a sea of opportunity for Britain’s fishermen

Bertie Armstrong, Scottish Fishermen's Federation
Bertie Armstrong, Scottish Fishermen's Federation
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The annual EU quota negotiations will get underway in Brussels on 12 December and it is always a rather fraught affair and an abject reminder of the glaring deficiencies of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Fishermen’s livelihoods depend on the outcomes of these talks to decide upon the catching opportunity for the following year. Over two or three days there are frenetic talks among the ministers of all 28 EU states, with compromises tabled when agreement can’t be reached, followed by more convoluted negotiations.

Alliances are formed by groups of countries to press their cases – sometimes to our advantage but other times not, and so the talking goes on. EU ministers and civil servants eventually fumble their way towards a final compromise and usually in the early hours of the morning a deal is reached. In short, fishermen’s futures have been decided by high pressure horse trading. It’s not very edifying and a perfect example of how not to manage our fisheries.

To be fair, it is a delicate balancing act, the scientific advice of course needs to be followed, as does the socio-economic impact of any cuts. And rather than there being significant increases or decreases in quota, it is usually best to avoid knee-jerk reactions and instead look at the big picture and steer the steady course of long-term management plans to ensure fish stock sustainability.

Of course, many of the quotas will have already been decided by the time we reach this stage in the process, especially those for shared stocks between EU and Norway, which cover such key species as North Sea haddock and cod. These are decided in November over two sets of week-long talks, where Norway as an independent coastal state negotiates directly with the EU to agree final share allocations. It puts Norway in a powerful position, negotiating directly with the EU, and ensuring its twin objectives of sustainable fishing and a good deal for its fishermen are reached.

So, by the end of November, Norwegian fishermen already know their catching opportunity for 2017 safe in the knowledge that they have achieved the best possible agreement. Once the UK leaves the EU in a couple of years’ time we will be in exactly the same position as a fully fledged coastal state.

Rather than our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) being common grazing where EU fishermen catch more fish in our waters than we do, we will now be in control of our territorial waters like any other normal coastal state. For our fishermen, it can’t come soon enough.

With full control of our 200 mile EEZ, Scotland and the rest of the UK can negotiate with the EU from a position of strength, ensuring the best possible deal is reached for our coastal communities while ensuring sustainable catching and environmental responsibility.

It will provide the twin advantages of fairer shares of catching opportunity for our fishermen, as well as better overall management. It means Scotland and the UK can at long last implement fit-for-purpose fisheries management plans that are good for fishing communities and good for the environment.

Our fishermen are also investing in new vessels, and with Brexit looming it now seems likely such investment will gather pace. This will create jobs and provide a new sea of opportunity that will ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for our coastal and island communities.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation