Amid all of the noise around Brexit Day, the increasingly controversial subject of post-Brexit fishing and the potentially pivotal role that fishing could play in future EU-UK trade talks has become a hot topic.
While there will be no immediately felt changes from Brexit Day, serious concerns and questions for the future of fishing have dominated recent media headlines, culminating in reports that post-Brexit fishing threatens to completely derail trade talks.
What is the current situation with UK waters?
Under the current Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the EUs seas and fish stocks are common to the 28 EU member states. Subject to an agreement to the contrary, UK waters will not be common to the remaining EU member states post Brexit. With current estimates showing that around 33% of the catches of the European fleet are caught in what will soon be considered UK waters, the absence of any kind of an agreement between the UK and EU in relation to foreign vessels and whether they will have access to UK waters post Brexit is understandably causing significant concern to EU fisherman.
Added to this, evidence that European fish stocks are on the move from Europe into the North Sea, the Baltic and west of Scotland as a result of an increase in fish numbers and rising water temperatures, and the concern from EU member states and EU fishermen will undoubtedly grow.
These concerns may have been compounded even further with the publication of the Fisheries Bill on 29 January 2020. The Bill, hailed as enshrining sustainable fishing into law, contains a legal guarantee that the UK will leave the CFP at the end of the transition period in December 2020. This means that EU vessels' automatic right to fish in UK waters will be removed, with all foreign vessels in future requiring a licence in order to legally fish in UK waters.
The Bill has been welcomed by many stakeholders of the industry, including those with a focus on "climate-smart fishing". What remains to be seen, however, is how the government plans to ensure sustainable fishing in practice. Is this focus on sustainability perhaps an indication that leaving the CFP will not be purely plain sailing for those involved in UK fishing?
For the time being, we can only speculate as to the eventual outcome of future EU-UK trade talks and what the economic and political landscape will look like post Brexit. Where there can be some level of certainty however, is the significant part that fishing and access to UK waters will have to play overall.