Isles MP Angus B MacNeil says he is standing up for Na h-Eileanan an Iar’s fishermen in Parliament .

He has warned the Tory Government that all eyes are on them as they negotiate the future of the fishing industry.

In a speech during the Fisheries Bill debate on Wednesday(November 21st), he outlined the many issues facing West Coast fishermen as highlighted to him by the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association.

These included fishing quotas; seal management; potential for a blue fin tuna fishery and spurdog by catch. He also stressed that the UK Government could take action to assist the industry with crew shortages right now but were choosing not to do so.

He is also calling on the House of Commons’ Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) to consider holding an inquiry into fishing quotas and has written to Chair Neil Parish MP on this matter.

He said:  “The Tories are trying to portray themselves as the saviours of fishing but the truth is it is not a priority for them and never has been. There is a real responsibility for this Government who are now treading this path.”

He added: “I think it would be worthwhile to have an EFRA committee inquiry into who holds quota, where they got quota from, where quota might be better distributed, ideas of community quotas, and geographical share of quotas.

“As recently highlighted in media reports from research by NGO’s, quota ownership is an issue of interest. I have suggested that the Committee could investigate loss of rights that were once historically held for example in the west coast of Scotland and is now in the hands of a few big fishing concerns outwith the area.”

He said consideration should be given to the full reorganisation of fishing quota particularly in pelagic sectors, perhaps adopting the principle which has been introduced in the Faroes, that all fish in Faroese waters are the property of the people of the Faroes.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan raised the implications for fishermen of the recently published draft declaration on the future UK-EU relationship durIng First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament.

The draft statement was recently agreed by UK and EU officials and sets out the structure for the future UK-EU relationship, with full negotiations to take place on it after the UK exits the EU.

Section 75 of the agreement states that “the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.”

Alasdair Allan MSP said: “Only last week, Scottish Tory MPs wrote to the Prime Minister stating they would not support an agreement with the EU which would prevent the UK from independently negotiating access and quota shares.

“Now that the draft Political Declaration on the future UK-EU relationship has become public, it is becoming clear in places like the Western Isles that, once more, fishing will be a bargaining chip to be used in post-Brexit trade negotiations. 

“The UK Government seem determined to turn themselves into a minnow negotiating with a shark when it comes to these negotiations. This is yet another reminder why this Tory government cannot be trusted to protect Scotland’s fishing communities.”

The section of the draft Political Declaration on the future UK-EU relationship on fisheries reads:

XII. FISHING OPPORTUNITIES

  1. The Parties should cooperate bilaterally and internationally to ensure fishing at sustainable levels, promote resource conservation, and foster a clean, healthy and productive marine environment, noting that the United Kingdom will be an independent coastal state.
  1. While preserving regulatory autonomy, the Parties should cooperate on the development ofmeasures for the conservation, rational management and regulation of fisheries, in a non-discriminatory manner. They will work closely with other coastal states and in international fora, including to manage shared stocks.
  1. Within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a newfisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.
  1. The Parties will use their best endeavours to conclude and ratify their new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020 in order for it to be in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.

In a statement, the Scotland Office stated:

  • The UK’s red lines on fish have been protected. 
  • Industry agrees that “The declaration gives the UK the power to assert its position as an independent Coastal State with full, unfettered sovereignty over our waters and natural resources” (Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation).
  • The text acknowledges the UK will be “an independent coastal state” with the rights and responsibilities that entails.
  • The EU wanted “existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources [to] be maintained” but this has been rejected - there is no commitment in the political declaration to maintaining existing access.
  • Instead the declaration says there will be a fisheries agreement which is a separate agreement and separate negotiation to the FTA.
  • This is similar to the arrangement Norway, as another independent coastal state, has with the EU - they have a fishing agreement which is separate to their trading arrangements.

The UK has consistently said that when we leave the EU:

  • We will be an independent coastal State and will be outside of the CFP.
  • We will be able to control and manage access to fish in our waters.
  • We will be seeking to move away from relative stability towards a fairer and more scientific method for future shares of fishing opportunities.
  • Fisheries will be a separate strand of our future relationship with the EU.

The political declaration protects these positions:

  • The text states explicitly that the UK will be an independent coastal State; UNLCOS gives us rights to manage our UK’s territorial waters (0-12nm) and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (12-200nm or the median line with other coastal states). 
  • The text provides for the establishment of a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares. Nothing in the agreement prescribes the content of this agreement. Access to fish in UK waters will be a matter for negotiation along with new arrangements for sharing fishing opportunities.
  • In practice this is similar to the EU’s relationship with Norway and the Faroe Islands in which binding legal agreements set a framework for annual agreements on access and fishing opportunities and they provide for cooperation on fisheries management and scientific research. The Parties then negotiate annually on access and quotas which will apply in the following calendar year. We believe these agreements provide a good model for a future bilateral agreement between the EU and the UK. 
  • The EU negotiating guidelines (adopted in March 2018) provided that “In the overall context of the FTA, existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained;
  • The political declaration does not create a link between a future agreement on fisheries, including access to waters, and any agreement on trade in fisheries products.

Details from Alasdair Allan in the Scottish Parliament and from the Scotland Office has been added since this article was first published