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Risks and opportunities for the fishing industry from Brexit – Lords EU committee 

The House of Lords European Union Committee has today published a report outlining the risks and opportunities of Brexit for the UK fishing industry.

The Committee note that fisheries represent a relatively small proportion of the UK economy – less than half a percent of GDP – and highlight the risk that it will be a low priority for UK negotiators in the Brexit talks. But the Committee stress the significance of the fishing industry to many coastal communities and urge that it ‘must not be marginalised in the wider Brexit negotiations'.

The Committee highlight that under international law the UK will have the right post-Brexit to control who fishes within its exclusive economic zone. The report makes clear that exiting the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is an opportunity to develop regulations that are ‘tailored to the United Kingdom'.

But the Committee also note that the UK will continue to be under international obligations to co-operate with neighbouring states if fish stocks are shared between the waters of two or more countries. Fish do not recognise political borders, and most commercial fish stocks are shared between UK waters and those of other EU or European coastal states. The UK must therefore continue to co-ordinate the exploitation of shared stocks with the EU and other neighbouring countries.

The Committee also notes that the CFP has allowed more regional flexibility in recent years, and that it has played a role in protecting fish stocks from over fishing. The report says that Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas should continue to be based on scientific advice and that the UK should not ‘discard the positive elements of the CFP that successive Governments have worked hard to achieve'.

The Committee also found that of the 666,000 tonnes of fish produced in the UK in 2014 (both farmed and caught) 499,000 tonnes were exported, and 66% of those exports went to the EU. The UK also imported 721,000 tonnes of fish, 32% of which came from the EU. If the UK fishing industry as a whole is to thrive post Brexit it will need to continue to have access to EU markets.

Commenting on the report, Lord Teverson, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Energy and the Environment Sub-Committee, said:

"Many people in the UK fishing industry were vocal supporters of Brexit and there is a strong sense that it presents an opportunity for them to grow and develop the industry.

"That may very well be the case but if that opportunity is to be taken, while ensuring fishing does not return to the unsustainable levels of the past, we need to ensure the recent positive developments of the Commons Fisheries Policy, largely promoted by the UK, are not discarded. Fish stocks are a shared resource and fish don't recognise national borders. We will have to continue managing fish stocks in a responsible and cooperative way to prevent over fishing.

"The UK fishing industry relies heavily on trade with the EU. Brexit will involve many trade-offs, and it may very well be that EU member states demand more access to UK waters than some fishers would want in return for our continued rights to sell fish to the European market with zero tariffs.

"What we are absolutely clear on is that the fishing industry and the coastal communities who rely on that industry should not be overlooked and must be fully consulted. While fisheries is a relatively small part of the UK economy, it is of fundamental importance to a great many people in different parts of the UK, from Brixham to Grimsby and Newlyn to the Shetlands. Those voices must be heard in the negotiations."

The report is last of six reports published in six days this week as the Committee scrutinises Brexit ahead of the expected triggering of Article 50 in March 2017.

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