A newly published study examining the benefits of Brexit promised to the to the UK fisheries sector – radical reforms, taking back control of UK waters and increased quota shares – in fact fall ‘fall far short of government rhetoric.’
The report is a collaboration between the University of York, New Economics Foundation, University of Lincoln and marine consultancy service ABPmer, and it concludes that while the government promised radical reforms to help the industry take back control of UK waters and increase quota shares (all while minimising trade impacts), this is starkly at odds with the reality of what has been achieved.
Despite government statements that Brexit would result in hundreds of thousands of tonnes of extra catch for UK fishermen, the research calculated that the increase will only reach 107,000 tonnes per year, or 12.4% by value for all species, by 2025.
UK fisheries management also continues in a state of interdependence with significant EU access to UK waters remaining, not least within the six to 12 nautical mile zone, which the government had pledged would be kept exclusively for UK fishing vessels.
New regulations and logistical barriers brought in by the Brexit trade deal also mean that exporting fish and seafood costs more and takes longer, so fish is less fresh and customers have been lost, the researchers state.
‘Government promises on Brexit and its benefits for the fishing industry were far in excess of what could be delivered. The industry became an icon of Brexit with claims it would correct past injustices and breathe new life into neglected coastal communities, but our study reveals the stark delivery gap between rhetoric and reality,’ said the lead author of the study, Dr Bryce Stewart, of the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of York.
Researchers analysed all available data on catch quotas, actual landings and the proportions of different fish species living in UK waters.
‘Most of the significant increases in catch quotas are for just a few fisheries such as western mackerel and North Sea sole and herring. Most fishermen, particularly those in small boats, have seen few if any benefits, so due to new challenges around trade are likely to be worse off,’ Bryce Stewart said.
‘Many people in coastal communities who were pinning their hopes on post-Brexit reforms feel betrayed and this comes at a significant cost to their wellbeing and mental health.’
ABPmer fisheries and aquaculture specialist and co-author Suzannah Walmsley commented that there had been a great deal of talk of zonal attachment, with quota shares determined based on the volumes of those stocks in national waters.
‘Our analysis of just 24 out of more than 100 stocks included in the deal shows that it falls short of this by at least 229,000 tonnes or £281 million,’ she said.
The researchers note that Brexit may bring some benefits to the environment as it has enabled the UK to reclaim the autonomy to designate offshore marine protected areas, something that was difficult from within the EU as it required agreement between all member states.
This has enabled a proposal to protect Dogger Bank.
‘While Brexit may bring some benefits to the environment, the government’s failure to deliver on its pledges to coastal communities will have further eroded trust in it’s motives and brings home the need for an end to overblown political promises,’ Bryce Stewart said.
‘Future decisions on reforms need to be evidence based and made in collaboration with communities. The UK government faces a challenging start to managing fisheries outside of the Common Fisheries Policy.’