Brexit talks may have finished, but the EU’s negotiations with Britain about fish are only just beginning.
EU fisheries ministers will hold a video call on Monday to prepare for the first annual negotiation with the UK on fishing rights for the many different species that roam between British and EU waters.
The purpose of this new EU-UK negotiation is to set overall fishing limits for 2021 for each species to make sure they are not overfished. Each sides’ share — its quota — of those fishing rights is already set out in the Brexit trade deal.
Monday’s discussion will be a reminder that it is not just the UK fishing sector that is deeply unhappy about that deal: there is plenty of frustration and anger on the EU side as well.
Ireland already complained at a meeting of EU diplomats this month that it was being asked to bear a disproportionate share of the quota cuts that Brussels negotiated with Britain.
As part of the future-relationship deal, the EU agreed to reduce its quota shares for dozens of types of fish. Much of that has already taken effect in 2021, with the rest to phase in by January 2025.
The cuts — equivalent to around 25 per cent of the more than €630m worth of fish that EU boats used to catch in British waters each year — concern lucrative species that are mainstays of national fishing fleets. For Ireland, an especially tough blow is a one-quarter reduction in its quota share for western mackerel, the country’s largest stock.
Other nationals fleets are also despondent. Esben Sverdrup-Jensen, chief executive of the Danish Pelagic Producers Organisation, told the FT that the adjustments were a “massive blow”.
“A lot of Danish fishermen have had some serious conversations with their financial institutions over the past few weeks and no doubt there will be fishermen who will go out of business here and lose their vessels,” he said.
EU officials noted that the cuts were far less than those sought by the UK, which made taking back control of its fishing waters a core negotiating objective. Brussels also insists that the trade deal offers stability.
For one thing, the treaty is clear that further quota changes can only be made if both sides agree.
Access for EU boats to UK waters is also guaranteed until mid-2026 and the EU would have the right to take compensatory measures — including hitting British fish exports with tariffs — were the UK to decide at any point in the future to shut EU vessels out.
One way to mitigate the impact of the deal is money — Jan Jambon, the minister-president of Flanders, told the FT last week that the fishing sector would be a priority when it comes to spending his region’s share of the €5bn Brexit Adjustment Reserve that the EU is putting in place.
But the backlash raises pressure on EU negotiators, who need to hammer out numbers with the UK on the volume of fish their fleets can catch in 2021.
Such talks are a standard feature of relations between coastal states and are part of the more complicated fisheries landscape in which the EU finds itself. Brussels is used to negotiating each year on about a dozen shared fish stocks with Norway, the bloc’s main fishing neighbour up to now. In the talks with the UK, around 100 stocks will be in play.
Fish was a central issue in the trade negotiations. It will now be a test of how the EU and UK work together to apply the deal they reached.
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Coming up today
EU foreign ministers will discuss the detention of Alexei Navalny by Russian authorities as well as relations with the US. Other items on ministers’ agenda include co-operation with the UK and the EU’s strategy for sharing Covid-19 vaccines with other countries. Japan’s minister Toshimitsu Motegi will join the meeting by video for a discussion on Asia-Pacific matters.
Fisheries ministers will hold a video call on upcoming negotiations on fish stocks shared with the UK. Farm ministers will discuss reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.