The House of Lords has published its report into fisheries in light of the UK's decision to leave the European Union. It highlights the opportunities as well as challenges ahead for the industry.

On 17 December 2016, the House of Lords' EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee published its report on shared fishing stocks, in light of the UK's decision to withdraw from the European Union. The report contains much scope for opportunity in light of the present situation, although it also predicts choppy waters ahead, especially involving the inevitable negotiations with our European neighbours over quotas and fishing rights.

The areas considered by the Committee include:

  • The opportunity to review fisheries management practices in the UK.
  • The extent to which the UK could control foreign vessels' fishing access to its waters.
  • The UK's obligation as a coastal state to manage shared fish sustainably in co-operation with adjacent states.
  • The importance of agreeing, and sharing, Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for shared fish stocks.
  • The significance of trade in fish and seafood to the wider industry.
  • The importance of fisheries to coastal communities and the necessity of involving the voice of the fishing industry.
  • That the Government may come under pressure to balance new quota shares and access arrangements against access to the Single Market.

The overall picture given by the Committee is that the UK now has the opportunity to regain control of its fish stocks since we will become an independent coastal state from the EU. By withdrawing from the European Union we will also in effect withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy ('CFP'), which had been controversial within the industry for so long.

However, in the Committee's own words, fish know nothing of borders. The majority of commercial fish stocks are shared between the UK and our neighbours, both EU and non-EU. Although withdrawal from the CFP has been greeted with great enthusiasm in some quarters, the Committee has tempered this by stating the UK would still need to manage its own fish stocks sustainably. This will involve a delicate balancing act of controlling fish stocks that are vulnerable to exploitation, while also taking into account the needs of coastal communities and the wider industry.

The UK will be taking back control of its own waters, however the reality of this will be negotiation with member states as to the degree to which foreign vessels will be able to fish in our waters, while also negotiating our own TACs with those states. These negotiations could become fraught as the Government has indicated it wishes to forge an agreement to regain access to the Single Market.

This is a thought-provoking indication very early on as to what the possibilities as well as the drawbacks could be, for an industry so heavily invested in this momentous decision.