A new briefing paper from the Food Research Collaboration has called for fair and food-focussed fisheries policy after Brexit.
Many fishers were vocal in their support for leaving the EU because of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), due to its system of quotas and the share it grants the UK.
However, despite taking a long time to produce the desired results, the CFP has in the last decade become an effective engine for sustainable fishing, says the new briefing paper.
Written by Dr Miriam Greenwood ‘Fish, fishing and Brexit’, demonstrates that a key cause of the difficulties experienced was necessary remedial action to deal with overfishing.
The restriction of fishing quotas and down-sizing of fishing fleets were essential due to the stock reductions resulting from overfishing. In addition, British boats could no longer fish at will in the waters of other countries.
The paper also explains that the access to much of Britain’s quotas – initially allocated based on the basis of past catches – has, over a period of years, been fully or partially privatised, without parliamentary or public debate.
Quotas can now be bought and sold, a process that disadvantages small fisheries who tend to use more sustainable methods.
Dr Greenwood said: “The result has been increasing concentration of quota holdings by large companies and quota trading by non-fishers.
“A certain amount of quota trading is useful and necessary. But there should be a balance between retaining flexibility and restrictions that prevent complete financialisation and ownership by individuals or companies not directly involved in fishing.”
At the end of the Brexit process, the fishing industry expects a large quota bonus; however, the overriding priority will continue to be maintaining sustainable fisheries which will require co-operation with the EU.
An additional priority for much of the seafood industry, including some fishing sectors, is frictionless trade.
The briefing recommends a comprehensive review of quota allocation – regardless of the type of Brexit agreed – based on fair distribution across all sectors of the fleet and rewarding the most sustainable forms of fishing.
It also highlights the need for a “food-focused” approach to fishing policy after Brexit, maximising UK shares of stocks useful for domestic consumption and finding ways to encourage UK consumers to eat more locally caught fish.
The British fishing industry has become primarily geared towards exports rather than feeding its own population, the report shows. A new, post-Brexit fishing policy should seek to maximise shares of stocks useful for domestic consumption.
Fisheries campaigner at Sustain Ruth Westcott, who welcomed the report, said: “The decline in the UK fishing industry cannot simply be blamed on the EU. Overfishing and the UK’s own policies, like choosing to allocate fishing quotas to large companies rather than smaller or more sustainable fishers, took a terrible toll.
“Simply leaving the EU won’t help coastal communities – in fact it might cut off their access to vital fish markets.
“The report shows that setting a good domestic fishing policy, with a legal requirement to rebuild stocks and allocate quota more fairly, could deliver jobs and growth to fishing communities.
“The government must now listen to this growing evidence and amend the Fisheries Bill to make this the case.”
Professor Tim Lang, FRC founder and adviser, added: “The UK must sort out its fishing policy to address the environment, health and livelihoods. As this report shows, we have inherited a mess. Consumers are getting mixed messages.
“Looking ahead, fishing policy is a test case of whether Britain will take its 21st century responsibilities for the food system seriously.”