By Lewis Smith
Britain will have to accept European fishing boats operating in its waters if it is to continue to be able to export its seafood to the continent, a Parliamentary committee has warned.
The UK fishing industry, much of which was vociferously pro-Brexit in the referendum on European Union membership, was cautioned that regaining control of British waters will not be a blank cheque to catch whatever it wants.
Lord Teverson, of the House of Lords EU Select Committee, said the “positive elements” of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) must be retained by the UK when it leaves the EU and that “fishing does not return to the unsustainable levels of the past”.
Quotas and total allowable catches (TACs) should, the report stated, continue to be based on scientific advice.
Among the reforms introduced to the CFP in 2014 was an obligation to ensure catches are kept to sustainable levels.
The Lords’ conclusions in a report outlining the risks and opportunities offered by Britain’s exit from the EU were welcomed by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) for emphasising that sustainable levels of fishing are in the best interests of the marine environment and the industry.
Debbie Crockard, of MCS, said: "The findings of the committee support our beliefs that sustainable fishing and the need for fish stocks responsibly and cooperatively managed underpins profitable fisheries, thriving coastal communities and healthy marine ecosystems into the future.”
Lord Teverson said as the committee issued its report: "Many people in the UK fishing industry were vocal supporters of Brexit and there is a strong sense that it presents an opportunity for them to grow and develop the industry.
"That may very well be the case but if that opportunity is to be taken, while ensuring fishing does not return to the unsustainable levels of the past, we need to ensure the recent positive developments of the Commons Fisheries Policy, largely promoted by the UK, are not discarded.
“Fish stocks are a shared resource and fish don’t recognise national borders. We will have to continue managing fish stocks in a responsible and cooperative way to prevent over fishing.”
He added: "The UK fishing industry relies heavily on trade with the EU. Brexit will involve many trade-offs, and it may very well be that EU member states demand more access to UK waters than some fishers would want in return for our continued rights to sell fish to the European market with zero tariffs.”
While insistent that the views of the industry and the coastal communities it supports must be heard during the Brexit talks, the Committee noted that fishing forms less than half a per cent of the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that there was a risk it would be considered “a low priority by negotiators.
The Committee described the UK’s departure from the CFP as “an opportunity” to create new regulations that are “tailored” to its needs.
However, the Committee pointed out the UK will need to make new international agreements with its neighbours because “fish do not recognise political borders”.
Of 666,000 tonnes seafood produced in the UK, 499,000 tonnes were exported of which two-thirds went to the EU. The UK imported 721,000 tonnes, of which almost a third came from the EU.
“If the UK fishing industry as a whole is to thrive post Brexit it will need to continue to have access to EU markets,” the Lords said.
A Government spokesman said: "We recognise the importance of our fishing industry and we will be working hard to secure the best possible deal for all our fishermen - both now, and for the future.
"As we enter the EU negotiations, the Prime Minister has been clear we want to ensure British companies have the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the Single Market.
"At the same time, leaving the EU is a real opportunity to review fisheries management in order to ensure fair access to quota, sustainable stocks and a healthy marine environment."
Picture: a beam trawler. Credit: Corey Arnold/Ocean2012