Post-Brexit UK fisheries law “not good enough”

(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)

Environment & Rural Affairs Committee
UK Fisheries Bill Legislative Consent Memorandum (pdf)
Published: 12th February 2019

“Leaving the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) will provide a unique opportunity for the UK and Wales to rethink their approach to fisheries policy. In order to take up these opportunities, it is crucial to address Wales’ current quota allocation, which we believe is fundamentally unfair.


“We are deeply disappointed that the UK Government has decided that this issue will not be addressed as the UK leaves the EU. Unless this matter is revisited, the benefits for Welsh fisheries arising from Brexit will be marginal.”
– Committee Chair, Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East)

The Committee published a separate report on the impact Brexit might have on the Welsh fishing industry last October – summary here.

1. The Welsh Government’s position on fisheries policy after Brexit is unclear

The Fisheries Bill is a UK law introduced at Westminister to set out how fisheries will operate across the UK after Brexit; some aspects of it require the Senedd’s approval as fisheries are a devolved responsibility.

By and large, interested parties are satisfied with the Bill. However, the Welsh Government have so far failed to consult on how they intend to develop fisheries policy in Wales; the Welsh Government blamed the tight timescales involved and the Energy, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) said her officials hadn’t been involved in the development of the Bill to the level she would’ve liked.

Nonetheless, the Minister has committed to passing a Welsh Fisheries Bill – utilising powers made available to Wales under the UK Fisheries Bill – before the end of the current term in 2021.

2. Sustainable fishing objectives are “unnecessarily weak”

Witnesses said the Bill’s clauses on sustainable fishing need to be more precise and should adopt the “generally accepted principles of good fisheries management”. Also, unlike the CFP, the UK Fisheries Bill doesn’t set a “maximum sustainable yield” target (the largest catch of a particular fish species within a given timeframe).

Witnesses were also concerned that there would be a lack of accountability with regard the UK Government and fisheries authorities in the UK to monitor and deliver specific fishing objectives – everything is a high-level aspiration, not a legal duty. In turn, this could threaten fish stocks in UK waters through overfishing and reduce consumer confidence that UK-caught fish were done so sustainably.

3. The Welsh Government will be able to licence foreign fishing vessels in Welsh waters, but there won’t be any change to the Welsh fishing quota

CFP regulations on equal access will be evoked in the UK, meaning unless foreign fishing vessels have a licence to catch in UK waters they’ll be unable to do so. The Welsh Government will have the power to issue licences with respect to Welsh waters – though there were calls for the number of licences to be limited.

UK boats would have equal access to British fishing waters regardless of where in the UK they came from. However, this seriously disadvantages the Welsh fishing industry. At the moment, Wales is only allocated 1% of the UK fishing quota and there’s no intention to change this. In practice, this means in many cases a Scottish or English fishing vessel could fish in Welsh waters, but a Welsh fishing vessel is stuck in dock due to the quota.

Fortunately, shellfish – which make up a large proportion of the Welsh catch – aren’t included under the quota system.

The UK Government have promised to introduce a fair quota but there’s nothing on that in the Bill. Without a quota change, the benefits to the Welsh fishing industry from Brexit “will be marginal” and the Committee was disappointed the Welsh Government haven’t pressed harder.

4. The Senedd can approve some aspects of the Bill, but other areas require amendments

The Committee recommended that the Senedd grant its consent to many clauses in the Bill affecting the devolution settlement. However, a number of amendments should be sought before the Senedd should grant its full consent, including:

  • Within 6 years of the Bill becoming law, there should be a pan-UK review on whether the fisheries objectives are working and fit for purpose.
  • Fisheries authorities should report to the relevant legislature on what progress has been made in implementing the fisheries objectives.
  • The Welsh fishing quota “imbalance” and the disadvantage it causes the Welsh fishing industry should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
  • Any financial support to the fishing industry should be based around the fisheries objectives.
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