Fishing for Answers I—Brexit's Effect on the European Fishing Industry

Access to UK fishing grounds is crucial to the EU’s fishing fleet, as the EU lands nearly EUR 800 million worth of (shell)fish from British waters. Brexit may change the fishing quota allocation in UK waters and could bring increased landings to the UK, while the EU’s catch rate is likely to decrease.

Brexit: Plenty at stake for the EU fishing industry

UK waters bring the EU seven times more (shell)fish than that landed by UK vessels from EU waters. Post-Brexit, and depending on the future UK-EU relationship, the UK may be able to change the fishing quota allocation in its waters, if the UK leaves the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). If the UK decides to withdraw from this policy, it would have the opportunity to manage the quota ownerships for its waters. Allocation of all fishing quotas in the UK’s extensive economic zone (EEZ) to British fishing vessels could lead to the full exclusion of foreign vessels from British waters.

Full exclusion could mean an increase in the UK’s landings by up to 50% to 60% in value terms, together with a decrease in the western EU’s catch rate by up to 20% to 30%. This would imply a considerable decrease in catch rates of the EU’s fishing fleet, as EU vessels landed EUR 785 million of (shell)fish from British waters in 2016. In contrast, the UK’s catch in common EU waters was only EUR 123 million (see Figure 1). For the UK to manage such an increase, it would need to up the capacity of its fishing fleet and would need access to EU markets for the increased landings, as currently, 70% of the UK’s seafood is exported to the EU.

Figure 1: EU fishing vessels land more (shell)fish from UK waters than that landed by UK vessels from EU waters, 2011-2016

Brexit fishing _Fig1.png

More than one-third of the total catch of western EU nations comes from UK waters

France, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Denmark are the EU member states that extract the highest value of seafood from the UK EEZ, ahead of Belgium, Germany, Spain, and Sweden. On average, 30% to 40% of (shell)fish landings of these eight nations come from the UK EEZ. Belgium and the Netherlands have the highest dependency rates on fishing in British waters (see Figure 2). In 2015, the total value of the Dutch fishermen’s catch from the UK fishing grounds accounted for 39% of the total Dutch landings – by volume it amounts to up to 60%. For Belgian fishermen, the dependency ratio on the UK EEZ exceeds 50%. Per species, landings of EU fishing vessels are the highest in mackerel and herring, which are not preferred by British consumers. In fact, most of what UK vessels catch is not consumed in the UK, but exported to the EU.

Figure 2: Belgium and the Netherlands most dependent on fishing in UK waters, 2015

Brexit fishing _Fig2

Brexit could decrease the western EU’s (shell)fish landings by up to 30%

The size of the quota shift from EU fishing vessels to UK vessels will depend on the result of the Brexit negotiations. Any increase in quota ownership by British vessels would allow the UK to expand its national fleet. It could also lead the UK to further invest in its processing industry, allowing for increased capacity to process the extra catch.

Under a scenario that the UK government allocates all quotas to UK fishing vessels, we assume that UK landings would increase up to 50% to 60% in value terms. However, the EU might retaliate and impose tariff barriers on its seafood imports from the UK. In this case, the UK could have difficulties in finding export markets for its increased catch, since more than 70% of British seafood exports are to the EU market, and a quarter of the UK’s total (shell)fish catch is also landed to foreign harbours.

Under the same scenario, we assume that the landings of the remaining EU member states that fish in UK waters would decrease by 20% to 30% in value terms. If this happens, the immediate effect of the full quota shift will not only be felt by the EU fishing fleet, but also by the coastal population, seafood processers, and traders in other member states. However, this situation could open up new opportunities for non-EU countries to trade with both the UK and the EU. The UK would, for instance, need to find new markets for langoustine, mackerel, and herring – which are landed in UK waters and exported to EU member states.

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