What next for fish producer organisations after Brexit?

'The problems are failures at all levels of government and governance. If that central quality of co-operation is not addressed, fishermen are doomed'

With the UK leaving the EU and withdrawing from the London Fisheries Convention, the fishing industry could undergo drastic changes. The sector includes 24 fish producer organisations (POs), which are membership organisations made up of fishermen.

The UK will also be leaving the EU’s Common Fishery Policy, a set of rules through which European fishing fleet and fish stock are managed.

Recently reformed in 2014, the CFP gives all European fishing fleets equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds with the aim of creating fair competition. The current policy stipulates that between 2015 and 2020 catch limits should be set that are sustainable and maintain fish stocks in the long term.

The UK’s fishing sector contributes £1.3bn to the economy – less than half a percentage of the country’s GDP – with more than 6,000 UK fishing vessels landing 708,000 tonnes of fish in 2015.

The London Fisheries Convention, which was signed in 1964, allows vessels from six EU nations (France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands) to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of the UK coastline.

Government figures show that in 2015, an estimated 10,000 tonnes of fish were caught by vessels from the London Fisheries Convention countries within 12 nautical miles of the British coast, worth an estimated £17m.

Producer organisations are allocated the vast majority of UK quotas and are responsible for managing these on behalf of their members. They were set up under the EU’s Common Fishery Policy in order to strengthen producers’ position in the market. Members sometimes market some of their catch through the PO.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), said he expected the role of fish producer organisations to continue post Brexit but that their legal status in terms of recognition would have to change.

“I expect the quota system in the UK will continue and reflect Total Allowable Catches (TACs) agreed through international negotiation. There may be some changes to that system over time but I do not expect it to be radically altered when the UK leaves the EU. POs, I think, will continue to play a central role in quota management and marketing and may take on additional responsibilities in relation to sustainable fishing and data collection.”

The EU’s Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) will also cease to be available to UK fishermen after Brexit. The fund was designed to help fishermen in the transition to sustainable fishing and support coastal communities in diversifying their economy.

“The extent to which there will be a need fisheries fund after Brexit will depend on the sort of settlement that we get on quota shares. No decisions on this have yet to be taken,” said Mr Deas.

But Jim Pettipher, who runs the Coastal Fish Producer Organisation, argues that the problems and failures of the UK and EU fishing industries are down to “not good enough co-operation” within the sector and at POs level.

“The problems are failures at all levels of government and governance. If that central quality of co-operation is not addressed, fishermen in the UK and across the EU are doomed, whether the UK is in or – as looks likely – whether the UK is out.

“As a co-operative society of 254 fish producer members (that’s more already than any of the UK’s other recognised POs) the Coastal PO’s members are keen to co-operate with the UK government, and so to set a good governance benchmark,” he added.

  • This article was amended on 15 August. The eighth paragraph stated that members marketed all, not some of, their catch through the PO; this has been corrected.
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