Discussions, often sharp, have now reached a critical juncture on three issues on which the two sides fail to agree at all. These are divergences in terms of competition rules, the way in which the final agreement itself will be implemented and … fishing.
And of these three, the thorniest issue of all is fisheries policies. It happened exactly as political and economic observers feared for the Brexit process.
According to the common fisheries policies of the European Union, the fishing fleet of each Member State has access to the territorial waters of the other Member States, with the exception of a 12-mile seam along the coast.
This freedom does not mean, however, that I can fish as much fish as I would like anyway.
In the context of one of the strangest political cuts in the European Union, ministers from different Member States met in Brussels last December to discuss with each other the volume of fish that their country’s fleets will be entitled to obtain, and from what species of fish. Discussions deepened into a kind of Cold War fishing as soon as national fishing quotas are set according to a formula that takes into account statistics from the last 50 years. Britain has always hated this system. He considered it rotten.
It is no coincidence that the fishing communities in the UK have proved to be ardent supporters of Brexit, incited by the frequent approach in the media: “The European Union is stealing our fish”. And as London moves out of the Common European Fisheries Policy in the coming year, the United Kingdom will become a so-called “independent coastal state” and control what is called an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles. .
The United Kingdom has more territorial waters than any other European state. These waters are also unusually productive. 60% of the quantity obtained by the fishing fleets in the north of France comes from the areas that become from January 2021, exclusively British. It’s all about geography, and … fish behavior, both very specific. Take for example the cod and the turbot, two of the most common species of fish in the North Sea. When they reach maturity, these fish search for deep, cold waters around the British Isles, but lay their eggs in warmer French waters. There fish have a better chance of survival. It’s as if the territorial waters of France are kindergarten, and the British nightclubs where the big fish can be caught, note free Europe.
About 80% of land-caught fish in the UK is exported mainly to the European Union, while 70% of fish eaten by the British is imported on a large scale from the European Union. In fact, the most valuable part of this industry is not the fishing industry, but the fish processing industry. However, the British fish processing industry is entirely dependent on free trade in the European common market. European negotiators immediately made the connection: access to European fishing fleets in British territorial appeal, they say, can be offered against duty-free access to British fisheries products on the European Union’s 450 million consumer market.
In essence, Brussels wants current fisheries policies to remain in place and is supported in this regard by countries such as Denmark, for which fishing is vital, but also by Belgium, France, Ireland and the Netherlands, where the fishing industry employs a large number of people from coastal communities are therefore influential at the regional level, and sometimes even gain national political influence.
The problem for Brussels, however, is that the current status quo is impossible to maintain. Prime Minister Boris Johnson must give satisfaction to some very vocal allies, so he is asking for quotas for the UK based on the location of the schools of fish, and not on historical rights. These stubborn allies also want those quotas to be negotiated with Brussels every year, which would place Britain in an absolutely dominant position.
A possible compromise would be a multi-purpose agreement by which Brussels would allow the volume of UK quotas to increase over time, but allow European fishing vessels to continue access to the English Channel, as has been the case in the past, but not in other areas. January 1 is fast approaching and it is very possible that French fishermen will be stopped from advancing in the waters where French fishermen have worked for centuries. Along with those directly involved, the rest of the Europeans, no matter what part of the Channel they are on, could find themselves in the middle of an economic calamity if Brussels and London fail to reach an agreement.