Securing Fish, Food and Livelihoods: Charting a Collaborative Course to Brexit?
a Comment by Erin Priddle, UK Program Manager, Environmental Defense Fund
The ‘Brexit’ vote to leave the European Union (EU) represents an unprecedented step-change in EU and United Kingdom (UK) politics. In the fisheries sphere, what came as a blow for many, especially those who worked to secure environmental gains from the last reform round of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), was seen as a big victory by others: particularly fishermen, many of whom view Brexit as an opportunity to take back control of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), to catch and land more fish within Britain, and to help shape a new political framework specifically tailored to the UK for effective management of the marine resource.
Whatever side of the fence you sit on, one thing is certain: the UK is a big player in EU fisheries. Politically, the UK is a top voting power in the European Parliament, with a strong reputation for pushing through ambitious environmental policies. Economically, the UK boasts the largest processing sector in the EU and has the third largest fleet in terms of catching power. The UK will continue to be a substantial fishing power post-Brexit, so it is important that countries come together to ensure that policies and practices are coherently designed to work for fish and fishermen, regardless of the political situation.
So what does all this mean for the fish? Since fish do not follow geo-political boundaries, international cooperation with other European countries will be crucial. Additionally, key marine conservation mandates of the CFP, such as fishing to maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and ending quota discards, must not be lost. The CFP is beginning to demonstrate results with signs of some European commercial stocks improving under a more coherent EU framework. It is critical then that we keep up this momentum to ensure effective management of the resource through sound stock advice. Should Scotland break away from the UK (Scotland holds nearly 80% of the UK quota share), the political landscape will change again. But the need for cohesive management of internationally shared stocks must remain intact.
And what does this mean for fishermen? The political capital yielded by fishermen throughout the Brexit debate has given many in the industry a feeling of optimism. Quota management will be the top priority for most fishermen and they will want Government to negotiate UK fishing opportunities in a way that is fair and advantageous to British fishermen. Cross-sector collaboration (including fishermen, processors, scientists, governments and environmental groups) will be essential to achieve a coherent vision for the future and provide a unified voice for fisheries as a priority area under Brexit.
Let’s not also lose sight of the bigger picture. The potential for EU fisheries to increase profits through secure, science-based quota systems that respect environmental limits is within reach. The UK must not be left behind in yielding these gains. Countries, such as Norway and Sweden, can lead the way by offering models and lessons to help establish best practice to secure ambitious, robust UK fisheries management with strong buy-in from industry and others. Any new system should also consider our changing climate to ensure that important flexibilities, (such as adaptive management in response to changes in stock distribution), are effectively built in. Now could not be a more opportune time to seize the moment and drive positive change for UK fisheries.