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Marine / Difficult fish talks define future relationship with EU

The Ocean Challenge joined the local whitefish fleet in October last year. Photo: Ivan Reid

PROTRACTED annual negotiations to set total allowable catches (TACs) for shared fish stocks in the North Sea between the EU, the UK, Norway as well as the Faroe Islands are ongoing almost two months after the end of the Brexit transition period.

With the UK acting as an independent coastal state for the first time, those close to the negotiations – which are being held entirely remotely – say talks are stalling because the EU is trying to undermine the UK’s newly won autonomy.

While the UK can now set the rules for all vessels fishing in UK waters, the trade agreement reached just before Christmas guarantees EU vessels automatic access and a fixed quota share until 2026.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins described the process as “very slow and laborious”.

The European Commission appears to be unwilling to accept that the UK has left the EU, he said.

“The atmosphere between the UK and EU seems to be difficult, with the EU keen to tie the UK to the CFP [Common Fisheries Policy] management regime and the UK insisting that it has the right to determine the management rules in its own waters,” Collins said.

A briefing paper from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) concludes: “The outcome of these talks will provide an indication on whether the UK has broken free of the Common Fisheries Policy (despite continuity on access and minimal change on quota shares) and intends to forge its own path ahead; or whether the UK remains as a satellite within the CFP orbit.”

UK negotiators agree that the outcome of the talks – if there will be a conclusion – is vitally important as it would define the nature of the future relationship with the EU.

In previous years, these multilateral talks were usually concluded before the end of the previous year.

With regards to local demands and expectations, Collins said there were three main issues members of the SFA had concerns:

1.
“Total Allowable Catch for North Sea cod, which is a matter for the ongoing UK-EU-Norway trilateral talks.

“The scientific advice for this stock makes no allowance for the trends of the past few years in cod distribution and would mean a cut in the TAC, exacerbating what we call a ‘choke’ situation in our mixed fishery;

2.
“Faroese access to UK waters, subject to UK-Faroe talks. We wouldn’t want any Faroese access to our waters except in return for significant transfers of quota and

3.
“Norwegian access to UK waters, subject to ongoing UK-Norway; our preference would be (again) access granted to Norwegian vessels in return for transfers of the quota we need.”