How do we deliver the benefits from controlling our fisheries again?

How do we deliver the benefits from controlling our fisheries again?

by Neil Stratton
article from Wednesday 28, October, 2020

CURRENTLY, under the fisheries management of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, the EU allocates quota using its two sacred cows of relative stability and non-discriminatory access to its various members – in the case of the UK, that means the UK, not England, not Scotland, not other jurisdictions – and then leaves it to its members to decide how to allocate their national quotas to individual boats provided they follow certain guiding principles. 

The way the UK does it (others do it differently but that is irrelevant) is through Fixed Quota Allocations (FQAs), which are issued by the various domestic fisheries administrations and which give a holder the right to land a specified percentage of the UK’s quota. 

So, essentially, a holder’s quota goes up and down as the UK’s quota goes up and down. For any given species and area, the UK gets a fixed percentage – based on its relative stability key – and the individual FQA holder then gets a fixed percentage of that. These FQAs, which were originally free, were based on fishing activity in 1994-96. They haven’t changed since but they can be bought and sold – subject to various restrictions on registration etc.  

This is why ‘UK quota’ – quotas allocated to the UK authority by the EU and reported to the EU as UK landings – can be owned by non-UK boats – although the boat will be registered in the UK and the company operating it based in the UK, the ultimate, beneficial owner may be Dutch, or Spanish, or French etc. Whether or not you think this is a good idea is another question; but in my view it is essentially no different to trading shares. Are British Airways or Rolls Royce actually British when you look at who owns their shares? Jaguar Land Rover certainly isn’t. However, they have major facilities in the UK and employ tens of thousands of Brits; so, in my view, if ‘Johnny foreigner’ wants to pump some money into the UK and come and join the party, great.

Conversely, there are many ‘foreign’ companies owned by UK companies or in which UK companies, funds or individuals own shares. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

The problem with taking quota back from such owners is that they bought it in good faith under the then current rules (whatever the egregious history of the ECJ Factortame ruling over Margaret Thatcher’s Merchant Shipping Act of 1988). Those ‘foreign’ owners/holders of FQAs bought them from a UK owner/holder who chose to do a deal and received money. They were not stolen from the UK owner/holder. The UK owner/holder could have chosen to sell them to another Brit. Presumably a Dutchman offered a better deal. That’s business.   

Stripping such owners/holders of what they had bought in good faith – without compensation – would be a very bad precedent for our intended ‘open for business’ Global Britain to set. Why would any businessman invest in the UK in future? I would suggest the most we could do is cancel all FQAs and say the entire system was to be revised and all FQA holders, UK and foreign, would have to reapply and then whatever rules we set for the new allocation – under our new freedoms from taking back control of our laws – would have to be applied equally and fairly to both UK and foreign FQA owners.  

Alternatively, where I think there is scope for a reset is to say that holders of FQAs have a fixed allocation of the current quota, allocated to the UK by the EU under the ‘bad old’ CFP. Extra quota that comes to the UK as a result of the current negotiations – if any, and by whatever mechanism – is a distinct tranche of quota and kept separate. Existing FQA owners have no rights to it. The UK and the devolved administrations then have a blank sheet of paper to decide how to divvy it up. 

We could perhaps also tighten up regulations in terms of required links to the UK – facilities that have to be based in the UK, percentage of crew from UK, landing obligations in UK and so on and so forth. Now we are out of the EU, we potentially have more freedom to impose rules and obligations that are specifically designed for the UK’s benefit. 

I suggest that, until such time as there is a stable trading relationship with the EU in fish and fish products, an obligation to land all or much of the fish caught in UK waters is very important. As pointed out in the previous two articles, Let them eat Sprat and Or maybe they’ll be eating Crab…, the consequence of increased UK quota based on resource share/zonal attachment is to transfer a substantial proportion of landings from the EU27 fleet to the UK one; and that the EU27 has limited alternative sources of supply if it wishes to continue to eat the kind of fish caught in the NE Atlantic. Reality might force the EU27 to grudgingly accept fresh fish caught by UK boats, whilst erecting barriers to the import of fish processed in the UK in an effort to divert fish landed by third countries from the UK to processing plants within the EU27. Until such time as a satisfactory agreement is reached with the EU27, the more control the UK exercises over the greatest possible proportion of landings from UK waters, the better.

Furthermore, some of the fish exported from the UK to the EU27 is not consumed there but processed and re-exported. What’s not to like about encouraging the relocation of such processing facilities to the UK?

Whilst the thrust of all of the above is to secure for the UK control of and benefit from the fish swimming in and landed from its waters, it is not designed to shut out ‘foreign’ involvement. ‘Foreign’ involvement would be welcome but in such a way as to ensure a UK resource benefited the UK, its people and Exchequer rather than the past situation where the EU has treated a UK resource as a common good and distributed it widely amongst its members without the UK receiving any recompense.

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