Brexit "not all plain sailing" – academics warn

TWO leading academics have suggested that the UK’s  hand in Brexit fishing negotiations, while delivering some benefits, was  not as strong as some people make out.
Ian  Goulding from the European specialist fisheries consultancy Megapesca Lda. and Professor Dorota Szalaj from the University of Lisbon,  presented an important  paper on the impact of Brexit at the weekend.
Meanwhile, the EU has also published three studies, concerning impacts of Brexit on the Common Fisheries Policy, presented at a workshop on “Common Fisheries Policy and BREXIT” on Friday this week. These concerned a detailed analysis of the “Legal framework for governance”, “Trade and economic related issues” and “Resources and Fisheries: a Case Study on the impacts on Germany”.
Both Goulding and Szalaj say in their paper that while  the impact of the UK’s EU exit on fisheries has  generated much passionate discussion, up to now it  has not been supported by the  factual analysis regarding the reality of the situation.
They state: “Since many of the important stocks are shared and straddle maritime boundaries, the UK and its future fisheries neighbours (the remaining  EU27, Norway and Faroe Islands) will be obliged to prepare new fisheries agreements which set a Total Allowable Catch (TACs)  for each species and allocate it between the parties.
“In determining the allocation of quotas to each party the EU may seek to maintain the Common Fisheries Policy’s relative stability keys, whilst the UK will seek leverage from a claimed greater zonal attachment of stocks to its waters. Whilst there is no comprehensive data on spatial distribution of fish stocks in current EU waters, the authors have estimated this for a Brexit scenario on the basis of 2014 catches reported for each sea area defined by ICES,  the  International Council for the Exploration of the Seas.”
The estimate that  the potential UK catch arising from the threatened post-Brexit exclusion of EU vessels from UK waters could increase by as much as 671,000 tonnes (representing a gain of 90 per cent of current catches).
However, since much of this would be lower value species such as blue whiting, the benefit would fall to 387,000 tonnes in cod equivalents. The ICES areas in which the UK would gain the most would be  the sector  VIa  (West of Scotland) and  sectors IVa and IVb (the northern parts of the North Sea). UK operators would however lose important access to fishing grounds to the West of Ireland.
They say the  UK will hope to keep access to important fish stocks in Norwegian waters of the North Sea, which it currently enjoys via the bilateral EU- Norway Fisheries Agreement. But that access,  which involves almost half of the EU quota of cod, is linked to the European Economic Area ( EEA)  Treaty, and the British  Government has all but ruled out retaining membership of this body.
The fear is the current UK quota of these Norwegian stocks could be lost in a post-Brexit scenario (for example the quotas could be retained by the EU and divided amongst the remaining 27 states, or revert it back  to Norway).
The pair say that even if access is not lost, the UK will have to come up with the quotas to exchange. All of these factors reduce the likely benefit to the UK from the attachment of European fish stocks to the UK zone.
Furthermore, the UK exports approximately 80 per cent  of its wild caught seafood, with 66 per cent  going to 27 EU states, so UK fishers have a strong interest in maintaining tariff-free access to  that  market.
However, the EU will most likely seek quota and access to fish in the UK zone in return as it did with Norway and Greenland so the waters ahead for the UK fleet may not be the plain sailing it had anticipated.