“Fishing is the most complicated matter that we have left [por resolver]”, the head of the British negotiations with the EU, David Frost, has recently admitted before the parliament of his country.
It is a really thorny issue. The UK is determined to regain control of its waters, while the European Union is not willing to give in to the privileges that it has enjoyed in them during the last decades.
If you look at the statistics, fishing accounted for only 0.4% of the gross value added in the British economy in 2019, but this sector carries great symbolic weight for an island nation in its quest for independence from the rest of the continent. And it is that European vessels today depend on British waters to the point that 60% of what they catch comes from them.
This is possible thanks to Common Fisheries Policy, whose quotas allow a proportionate exploitation by the different member states of British waters that, for now, remain Community. But London has grown weary and aspires to emerge as an independent coastal state once its divorce from the EU is complete.
This would have a clear advantage for the country: it would finally have an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles. This brings with it a reduction in the volume of vessels that access these waters, and, in turn, a higher fishing quota for vessels flying the British flag. The less positive side is that whatever happens, the EU remains the UK’s main export market.
What is clear is that for now there is no agreement between the parties, and although London has suggested that an annual quota be introduced with the EU, as it has agreed with Norway, Brussels has not accepted. In seeking an agreement that satisfies the British partner, the Community authorities have to take into account the will of the coastal states with interests in the area.
One of them is France, which is particularly reluctant to make concessions to the United Kingdom to the detriment of its fishing interests. As Clement Beaune, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, told Le Monde, “an agreement must respect our conditions, be it fishing, terms of competition or governance.”
For its part, Ireland fears that the reduced access of European vessels to UK waters will translate into greater exploitation of Irish waters.
In some cases, the positions taken by one or the other on this issue acquire electoral overtones. Be that as it may, it is a matter that will have to be resolved so that both parties are satisfied as much as possible, if greater tensions or even confrontations between London and Brussels are to be avoided.