Boris Johnson Plans Law for Control of U.K. Fisheries After Brexit

Alex Morales

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Boris Johnson’s government plans to reclaim control over British fisheries with a law allowing the U.K. to decide who can fish in its waters and on what terms.

The legislation to be published Wednesday will end current automatic rights for European Union vessels to fish in British waters, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in an emailed statement. Under the proposal, the U.K. will leave the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy at the end of December -- after an 11-month post-Brexit implementation period has ended.

“This new Fisheries Bill takes back control of our waters, enabling the U.K. to create a sustainable, profitable fishing industry for our coastal communities, whilst securing the long term health of British fisheries,” Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said. “Leaving the EU’s failed Common Fisheries Policy is one of the most important benefits of Brexit. It means we can create a fairer system which will allow marine habitats to thrive, with new powers to support our fishing sector.”

Fisheries are shaping up to be one of the flash points of the U.K.’s forthcoming talks to shape its future relationship with the European Union: currently EU vessels catch more fish in British waters than British vessels do, and the EU has said any trade deal it strikes with the U.K. must be underpinned by a fisheries agreement. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Monday suggested that if the U.K. wants access to EU markets for its financial services, it might have to allow EU fishermen to trawl British waters.

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“What happens in these things is trade-offs, you know, for example, the United Kingdom has a very strong position on fisheries,” he told the BBC. “You may have to make concessions in areas like fishing in order for us, in order to get concessions from us in areas like financial services.”

The U.K.’s fishing industry has been in decline for decades and is relatively small -- with a catch valued at just under 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) a year. At the same time, it was championed by Brexiteers during the 2016 referendum on EU membership, and some of the areas that voted most strongly to leave the EU were coastal towns once known for their fishing fleets. One of the most bizarre moments of the referendum campaign saw U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and rock star Bob Geldof trade insults from rival flotillas along London’s River Thames.

The legislation to be published Wednesday will include the following provisions:

EU vessels’ automatic right to fish in U.K. waters will end.Foreign boats will need U.K. licenses and will have to follow British rules.Plans will be made for every fish stock to ensure sustainable fishing.The U.K. will take into account climate change impacts on its fisheries.Fisheries plans will recognize that many fish stocks are “shared stocks” requiring negotiation with other coastal states to ensure sustainable catches.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Robert Jameson

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