UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice said he plans to secure an ‘ambitious’ Brexit for fishermen – but with a soft landing.
This would mean those EU vessels operating in British waters being treated in a ‘decent, fair and honourable way’.
The minister (pictured), accompanied by Defra officials, was speaking at a meeting of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, which included a diverse gathering of boat owners, skippers and fishermen.
He made it clear that the UK will take over responsibility for managing fisheries within its exclusive economic zone once it leaves the European Union.
He said an immediate priority would be to secure quota shares for the UK that reflected the resources located in UK waters, rather than through a 40-year-old formula that has led to UK vessels being obliged to discard hundreds of tonnes of fish each year.
Once settled, the new arrangements could be reviewed every five years or so to ensure that quota distribution keeps up with dynamic changes in stock distribution and fishing patterns.
Eustice said negotiations on the fisheries aspects of Brexit had yet to begin but a huge amount of preparation was now under way.
The political significance of fishing within Brexit was underlined by the fact that the Fisheries Bill is only one of seven new bills outlined in the Queen’s speech.
It will be necessary and important for the UK to have the ability to determine access conditions and quotas from day one after Brexit, said Eustice.
That much was understood across the government and is why parliamentary time is being set aside to deal with it.
The minister outlined the type of bilateral negotiations that might be expected to replace the CFP. But the model of an annual fisheries agreement was already there in the way that the EU currently relates to countries such as Norway, the Faroes and Iceland.
An agreed scientific formula of the resources in the EU and UK’s respective waters would be the starting point for a shift from the principle of ‘relative stability’, based on historic catch shares, to rebalanced quota shares.
But the actual trajectory of change would be part of bilateral negotiations.
Voices from the floor reiterated the industry’s view that there should be an exclusive 12-mile zone to protect the UK’s inshore fisheries.
The minister was asked bluntly about the industry’s fears that securing a fair deal on fisheries could be sacrificed to much more powerful economic interests, not least the City of London’s financial services.
His reply was that Brexit had to deliver a fair deal for all parts of the UK and that fishing was very much in the political spotlight.