Fisheries Bill 2020: What Does it have in Stock?

21 April 2020 by

The Fisheries Bill 2020, part of the government’s core legislative program on post-Brexit environmental policy, is currently in the House of Lords at committee stage, and is expected to receive royal assent in the coming months (although exactly when is subject to how successfully the House of Lords can adapt to meeting via Microsoft Teams). It would establish Britain’s departure from the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) on January 1st 2021, and sets out how fishing rights would work post transition period and CFP. 

Given the passion that fishing rights raise, you might be forgiven for thinking that they were absolutely essential to the functioning of the UK and EU economies. In fact, fishing accounts for around 0.1% of both. A joke going around environmental blogs is that green bills are like buses – none come when you need them, then they all arrive at once. Perhaps for the Environment and Agriculture Bills – discussed by me here and here. But the Fisheries Bill feels more like the Brexit Bus than a local routemaster. It promises the repatriation of sovereign powers and gains in the millions by taking back control of our waters, while hiding potential losses in the billions, if issues with fishing rights derail trade negotiations – a slim but real possibility.

Even the most entrenched remainer, however, would have to recognise the multiple failures of the CFP. It has been plagued by mismanaged quotas and outsized lobbying interests since its inception, and it has clearly favoured certain member states over others. The Fisheries Bill has as such been largely well received by environmental groups, such as Greener UK, who comment that the “focus on climate change and sustainability is very helpful”. I’ll start with what the bill actually says, then discuss the EU negotiation position and conclude with a few comments about what the legislation may mean for the future relations.

The Bill in Brief

Motivating the Fisheries Bill is the idea of repatriating control of the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and ‘catch and effort’ quota. The EEZ refers to the 200 nautical mile radius from the coast over which any given country has control as per international law, international agreements like the CFP notwithstanding. The catch and effort quota refers to the legal maximum number of fish anyone can catch and the legal number of days anyone can fish respectively. 

Clause 1 sets out the government’s eight fisheries objectives:

  • (a) the sustainability objective; 
  • (b) the precautionary objective; 
  • (c) the ecosystem objective; 
  • (d) the scientific evidence objective; 
  • (e) the bycatch objective;
  • (f) the equal access objective; 
  • (g) the national benefit objective; and 
  • (h) the climate change objective

Under the Fisheries Bill, the relevant secretaries of state would be required to order a Joint Fisheries Statement (JFS), required 18 months after the bill receives royal assent and at least every 6 years following that. The JFS would set out a joint framework between Westminster and the devolved power for how they intended to achieve the 8 fisheries objectives. The framework for laying out the JFS is described in clauses 2 – 11.

Clauses 12 – 18 deal with the granting of fishing licences to both British and foreign vessels. Clause 12 states:  

“(1) A foreign fishing boat must not enter British fishery limits [Britain’s EEZ] except— (a) for the purpose of fishing in accordance with a sea fishing licence, or (b) for a purpose recognised by international law or by any international agreement or arrangement to which the United Kingdom is a party.”

Article 5 of the CFP, which gives EU fishing vessels “equal access to waters and resources” in all EU waters, is revoked by paragraph 2 of schedule 10, thereby stopping access from EU vessels according to part b. Clauses 14 – 18 grant powers to relevant ministers to grant fishing licences to foreign vessels. The political declaration on future relations agreed between Boris Johnson and EU leaders sets a July 2020 deadline for negotiating access for EU vessels to UK waters. This is looking likely to be missed. In the most recent round of trade talks, 2 months before the deadline, Britain has still not submitted any proposals for fishing rights. 

Clauses 23 – 27 set out the management of “fishing opportunities” – ‘catch and effort quotas’, or the total amount of fish that can be caught (catch) and the total number of days fishable (effort). The CFP was heavily criticised for its allocations of “Total Allowable Catches” (TACs), which regularly exceeded scientific advice. Illustrative of this is North Sea cod stocks: concerted conservation efforts allowed the stocks to recover to “sustainable” levels in 2017, according to the Marine Conservation Society, only to return to endangered status 2 years later, as the result of overly lax TACs. Clause 23 establishes catch and effort quotas in line with scientific advice over what is sustainable, and 24 – 27 deal with their implementation and sale overseas.  

One of the areas that the EU has been particularly weak in regulating was in the so-called “discard ban”. Discarding is the practise of returning caught fish to the sea, dead or alive, if they are illegal (due to insufficient size or exceeded quotas) or uneconomical. The practice has been blamed in part for the depletion of European fish stocks, but efforts by the EU to implement discard bans have been largely ineffective. Clauses 28 to 32 describe various powers given to the secretary of state to implement a discard ban after leaving the CFP, as well as the requisite powers to charge those who flout it.

The EUs Negotiating Stance

The EU insists that any trade agreement with the UK must include long-term fishing provisions, largely because of the value of UK fishing waters to EU fishermen. EU member states’ vessels annually caught roughly 749,000 tonnes of fish (£575 million revenue) caught in UK waters, while UK vessels landed approximately only 96,000 tonnes (£96 million revenue) from non-UK EU waters. The UKs position is that free trade agreements and fishing access are independent issues and should be negotiated separately; and that fishing access should be subject to yearly review, similar to the EU’s agreements with Norway.  

It’s important not to underestimate the importance of British fishing waters to the EU. Britain has some of the richest fishing waters in the world. The EU fleet itself is far too big for the waters it fishes, requiring British fishing waters to fill its trawlers; fishing in British waters allows the EU fishing industry, which is already heavily subsidised, to remain economically viable. On the other hand, the British fishing industry is reliant on trade with Europe. Britain imports 90% of its cod, the nation’s favourite fish (although mainly from Norway and Iceland, not the EU), and exports 75% of its catch to the EU, meaning that access to those markets are essential for its functioning. It’s unsurpising that Amélie de Montchalin, France’s Europe minister, answered “yes” to whether failure to negotiate fishing rights could collapse the entire trade deal.

Britain has not submitted proposals for fishing rights negotiations in the most recent round of talks. This is in line with its position that fishing rights should be negotiated yearly, and separately from free trade talks, but leaves the EU nervous. The July 1st deadline for the fishing agreement seems particularly ambitious since normal negotiation difficulties are being compounded by access and communication issues resulting from Coronavirus. Add to the mix the repeated assertions from the British government that they will not seek to extend the deadline, it makes the possibility that EU vessels will be fishing in British waters on January 1st 2021, as the CFP is replaced by the Fisheries Bill, increasingly unlikely. Whether that will be to the benefit of the UK fishermen, who may well be subject to up to 24% import tariffs on fish in the EU market, we will have to see. 

Rafe Jennings is a journalist and aspiring barrister with an interest in environmental law and policy. He is now a regular contributor to UKHRB.

1 comment;

  1. Jonathan G M Edwards says:

    Unexpected to read about cod stocks on UKHRB but welcome and of interest to me personally. Writing close to numerous fishing villages in W.Wales with little or no fishing. Despite rich UK waters. With Wales not using the powers Wales has to any effect. Thoughts on UK fishing lobby – small and a card to discard in negotiations with EU whether in or out. Unless London suddenly worries about Scots Indy perhaps. With Thatcher, in EU, the discard was in exchange for a deal on grain for East Anglia. With Johnson, the word is the discard will be in exchange for a deal on financial services ie London. As a Remainer, the glaring weakness of UK/EU was fishing. Now the UK has (sort of) left, its still a weakness. Would love a regime with fishing rights and catches aligned so Wales (and UK) has sustainable fishery. Even if Welsh fisherman export it all to the EU because Brits don’t eat Spider crabs etc. How to get such a regime?

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals Anne Sacoolas anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board care homes Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus coronavirus act 2020 costs costs budgets Court of Protection covid crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy diplomatic relations disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control hague convention Harry Dunn Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary ouster clauses parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy procurement Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions prostituton Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation refugee rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania round-up Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism The Round Up tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Weekly Round-up Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: