Economy & Politics

BrexitBrexit: Everything about the dispute over fishing rights

Fishing boats in Newcastle: Many fishermen have voted for Brexit.

Actually, the Brexit negotiators hardly have any time for an agreement. The agreement that regulates economic relations between Great Britain and the EU from January 1st should be in place by midnight on Sunday. But there is still disagreement – including over fishing rights.

If the negotiators cannot come to an agreement in time, a no-deal Brexit could result – if there is no extension of the deadline. Great Britain already left the EU at the end of January 2020, but will still be part of the EU internal market and the customs union until the end of this year. From January 1, 2021, an agreement will regulate trade relations with the EU. Without an agreement, tariffs and other trade barriers would come into force.

Fishing is an important point of contention in the current negotiations – ideologically highly charged, but hardly economically significant. The most important questions and answers about the fish dispute.

What are the British and the EU arguing about?

The dispute over fishing is about whether and under what conditions EU fishermen will still be able to fish in British waters in the future. The EU wants EU fishermen to continue to fish in British waters as before, and the British government wants to control its own waters itself in the future. Fishermen from an EU member state are generally allowed to fish in the territorial waters of all EU states. However, there are rules here too. Catch quotas are agreed annually to determine which fishermen are allowed to catch how much where. British fishermen see themselves disadvantaged by these regulations because they are comparatively little allowed to fish from their own waters.

Why are British fishermen allowed to fish so little in their own waters by comparison?

Many fishermen blame the EU’s catch quotas for this. These are based on a historical key. Another important factor is that the UK government is responsible for distributing the quotas in its own country. One problem for small fishermen is that much of the fishing rights are owned by a few large companies. The smaller fishermen have to share the rest of the catch quota among themselves – and thus get significantly less.

How important is fishing as an economic factor?

Economically, fishing is relatively insignificant for Great Britain. There are of course coastal regions in which fishing plays a major role, but the overall economic importance is minor: just 0.12 percent of the gross domestic product comes from fishing. And for the EU, too, fishing is not a crucial part of GDP. The Ifo Institute estimates the total value of EU catches in British waters at around 520 million euros. This is a large sum, but only a fraction of the volume of trade between the UK and the EU.

So why is fishing still a sticking point?

The topic is ideologically charged, and has been since the Brexit referendum. The demand to regain control of their own territorial waters was an important demand of the pro-Brexit campaign. That is why many fishermen voted for Brexit. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said it could not accept an agreement that did not leave Britain in control of its own laws and waters.

What’s next now?

If there is no agreement and both sides hold on to their position, then a Brexit agreement could actually fail because of the fishery. In the absence of an agreement, EU fishermen will no longer be allowed to catch fish in British waters. That would hit France above all economically. According to a report by the EU Parliament, the country accounts for 30 percent of the monetary value generated by the EU countries’ fleets in British waters. The Netherlands and Ireland would also be badly affected. The Ifo Institute emphasizes that German fishermen would also be affected because they make over half of their catches in British waters. Should it come to that and EU fishermen no longer have adequate access to British waters, the EU could in return impose tariffs on British fish. That, in turn, would hit the UK hard as much of UK fish is exported. Should the whole agreement fail, tariffs and other trade barriers will come into force on January 1, 2021. But the parties are still negotiating.

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