Recent dispute over scallops shows scale of post-Brexit challenges ahead over fishery access

It is a great relief to our fishermen that the British and French governments have finally secured an agreement that ends the dispute over scallop fishing in the Baie De Seine.

Mike Park is chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association

The delay to the deal centred on the level of compensation to be paid to UK under 15-metre vessels.

What started as a dangerous and violent skirmish between French and United Kingdom vessels in the English Channel had threatened to foreshadow ugly confrontations on a larger scale in the future, both at sea and in the various international forums at which decisions on access and quota are made.

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But let’s hope the willingness on both sides to shake hands at the last minute is a sign of what lies ahead.

Like them or not, fisheries have to operate under agreed rules. With the UK exiting the EU, those rules are about to change, hopefully for the better.

But while the percentages may change, the principle of shared resources will still be in play, at least as far as the United Kingdom is concerned.

The issue in the Baie De Seine was at least partly a function of choices made by the French fishermen.

They could harvest the stock at this time of the year without a major impact on sustainability, but they choose not to because of the way they supply their market, one where the product’s shelf life is dependent on climate.

Scallops from the Baie De Seine caught by French vessels are sold to the marketplace as whole fish, shell and all.

This is traditional for them, whereas we remove the meat and sell it either frozen or fresh.

It means they restrict entry to the area until 1 November whereas UK vessels had faced no such restriction.

I would never advocate challenging a practice that has been nurtured over decades and perhaps centuries. But given that UK vessels were entitled to fish the area, it is appropriate that the rights of these vessels continue to be protected.

What, you might ask, has all this got to do with Brexit?

The stated intention of the UK government is for Britain to become an independent, sovereign coastal state when it leaves the European Union. It will then have control over access and quotas for the UK Exclusive Economic Zone.

As things stand, around 60 per cent of the stocks in these waters are harvested by non-UK, mostly EU, boats. The industry and government are agreed that this imbalance should be corrected much more in favour of UK boats.

The detail of how much and when remains to be agreed.

Clearly, it is not in the UK’s interest entirely to exclude foreign vessels, but there is bound to be some loss to those countries that rely on UK waters for a large proportion of their catches.

Compensation, monitoring/intervention and readiness to change and modernise long-established practices are going to feature heavily if we are to achieve balance and harmony akin to the situation in the Baie De Seine around the UK coastline.

Mike Park is chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association