Dr Jonatan Echebarria Fernández (City Law School), Dr Tafsir Matin Johansson (World Maritime University) and Mr Mitchell Lennan (University of Strathclyde)

On Tuesday 8 June 2021, eleven leading experts from academia, the fishing industry, and international organisations gathered at an online workshop to discuss the legal challenges presented by Brexit and fisheries. The workshop was organised as part of the City Law School Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) funded project “Legal challenges faced by coastal and fishing communities and the new British Fisheries Policy”. The project is led by Dr Jonatan Echebarria Fernández of City Law School (Principal Investigator), Dr Tafsir Matin Johansson of World Maritime University (Senior Expert Consultant) and Mr Mitchell Lennan of the University of Strathclyde (Impact Assistant).

The webinar was organised by the project team, and moderated by Professor Elaine Fahey, Jean Monnet Chair in Law and Transatlantic Relations, and Professor Jason Chuah FRSA, Associate Dean both at City, University of London.

This blog post revisits some of the key points raised during the workshop and summarises its conclusions. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together leading fisheries experts from academia, industry and policy to share their expertise, views and experience on the challenges that are raised by Brexit and the consequences for the United Kingdom in leaving the Common Fisheries Policy. The goal of the workshop was to share and discuss ideas and emerging findings, share feedback on best practices, discuss legal issues and strengthen the dialogue between stakeholders and policymakers. The outcome of the workshop will lead to the publication of the “Fisheries and the Law in Europe: Regulation After Brexit” monograph by Routledge. The workshop was opened with a welcome address by Dr Fernández and an introduction by the project team.

Gerard van Balsfoort, President of the Pelagic Freezer Trawler Association, and European Fisheries Alliance Chairman gave an opening address, rather aptly named: “Why is (almost) everybody complaining?” Mr van Balsfoort highlighted the fact the UK Government failed to take managing expectations of the fishing industry seriously in their Brexit plan. He also raised two key points that were a theme throughout the workshop. First, the UK must find its place as a new coastal state, and until it does the situation in the North-East Atlantic will be a turbulent one. Second, the EU has successfully played the trade card in relation to the fisheries components of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), and the EU fishing industry will make use of this tool in the future.

The first panel, “International and Domestic Legal Challenges”, was chaired by Professor Chuah. Professor Catherine Barnard (University of Cambridge) opened the panel with a comprehensive analysis of the dispute resolution mechanism of the TCA, using the recent fisheries dispute around Jersey as an example. Professor Andrew Serdy (University of Southampton) presented selected highlights of the TCA on fisheries. He noted that the UK fell short of securing zonal attachment, but did achieve annual fisheries negotiations. He also highlighted that there is no mechanism for parties to assure each other that they are adhering to their quotas. Dr Mercedes Rosello (Leeds Beckett University) made use of the illustrative case study of the situation around Rockall after Brexit. This ranged from UK sovereignty over the islet, though to the changing legal landscape after Brexit, and issues concerning the exercise of jurisdiction with regard to fisheries management and control in the area. Miguel Núñez Sánchez (Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda) indicated some opportunities. The UK has included sustainability in the Fisheries Act 2020. He also pointed to the more prominent role the UK could play in international organisations. Professor Richard Barnes (University of Lincoln) closed the panel giving potential options to move forward, highlighting the importance of the principles or approaches of cooperation, holistic approach, compromise and realism.

The second panel of the workshop, chaired by Professor Elaine Fahey, gave insightful perspectives from across the UK and Ireland. The panel generally highlighted the uncertainty that industry is facing from the small to large scale, as well as in fisheries processing. Elizabeth Bourke (National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations) indicated the present uncertainty, medium term adjustments needed for fisheries management, and again uncertainty in future with what will happen with Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and quota allocation in 2026. Seán Marriott (University of Hull) gave us an insightful perspective from East Anglia on the market forces driving the inshore crustacean fishery. Mr Marriott noted that the Covid-19 pandemic was, at present, a greater market force than Brexit. Both Mr Marriott and Ms Bourke noted the positive and negative impacts climate change is having on industry in the UK. Rod Cappell (Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management) followed with the uncertainty theme, presented us with some perspectives from Northern Ireland, including the practical implications of maintaining business with Ireland. Key issues highlighted were quotas, access and trade. Mr Cappell noted that uncertainty continues in all of these aspects. Ciarán O’Driscoll (European Movement Ireland) presented perspectives from Ireland. In particular, the Irish fishing industry is expected to see a loss of around €42 million by 2026, and the burden of losses to stocks in UK waters as a result of Brexit. Mr O’Driscoll also highlighted the collapse of seafood imports from the UK, and imports of products such as fish meal. The workshop’s final speaker was Jimmy Buchan (Scottish Seafood Association) closed with perspectives from the oft-forgotten seafood processing industry. Jimmy noted that the Scottish and UK Government were working to different objectives, and political issues were often indivisible from industry.

The workshop concluded with thanks from the organisers to the speakers, chairs, and audience, and concluded by making a return to Mr. van Balsfoort point made at the keynote address: the UK has a role to play in the management of North-East Atlantic fisheries, but will it be a cooperative or disruptive partner?

Echoing Gerard van Balsfoort’s words, no one is satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations between the UK and the EU. Annual negotiations between these parties regarding the TAC until 2026 leaves (almost) everyone complaining in the fishing industry. Only time will tell what the future will bring and how the relations between the UK and the EU will progress towards a mutual understanding.

View the workshop recording

View the full programme

The outcome of the workshop will lead to the publication of the Fisheries and the Law in Europe: Regulation After Brexit monograph by Routledge.