It appears that fishing almost sank the Brexit trade deal. But a trade deal was agreed, right at the eleventh hour, after months of negotiation. Fishing was always high on the agenda, as it had been for the ‘leave’ campaigners prior to the referendum in 2016. Not only was the fishing deal a Manifesto pledge, but it was also a key Government objective for Brexit*. Across the UK, and very much so in Cornwall, fishing represented the Brexit symbolism relating to sovereignty.
When it came to the negotiations the importance of fishing wasn’t just true for the UK, the EU also placed significant focus on what they wanted in terms of fishing. Frustration in the UK was long held, with Cornish fishermen feeling they had suffered from a raw deal since the 1970s. There was a clear perception that the UK government had agreed to less advantageous terms than those achieved by the governments of other EU countries. And, entering with less favourable terms had made it more difficult to change them to a much more positive position.
It was clear both before and after the referendum that a better deal for the UK fishing industry was promised as an important element. The fishing community saw this as essential to correct the inequalities of the historical agreement. And so, fishing has clearly been promoted as a key symbol of the new world of fairness regarding post Brexit sovereignty. Although compared to other areas of the deal negotiated the size of the fishing industry mustn’t be overestimated. In 2019, UK vessels landed sea fish with a value of £987 million**, although it must be remembered that this isn’t the full picture as the processing sector is also substantial.
Throughout the negotiations the EU and UK demands were some way apart and this led to the late agreement as part of the deal. But a deal was reached. Although the details of the deal aren’t popular amongst those in the fishing industry. For example, Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), claims that the fishing industry was “sacrificed” to enable other elements of the deal to be agreed. The NFFO highlighted disappointment as they felt promises had not been met.
So, what was the deal in the end?
Well, EU boats remain allowed to fish in UK waters during the transition period. As before the deal they can fish up to the six nautical mile limit, even though the UK boundary is twelve nautical miles out to sea.
UK boats have been granted a greater share of the quota, so this means more fish can be caught and sold by British boats. The quota available for EU fishing vessels is being cut by a quarter over the next five to six years. After this period there will be annual negotiations regarding fisheries. The format of these is not yet clear.
For Cornish fishermen this will, over the next few years see them having access to a greater share of the quota. In addition, the Prime Minister has promised an investment of £100 million in the British fishing industry, enabling further support.