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Fisheries: Brexit Negotiations

Published Monday, December 3, 2018

Following Brexit, the UK will no longer be part of the EU Common Fisheries Policy. It will become an independent coastal state and be fully responsible for managing fisheries in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 miles.

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This will include setting total allowable catches (TACs), distributing quotas and determining who has access to fisheries.[1] However, access for EU vessels to UK waters and vice versa is likely to be part of any agreement reached with the EU, as part of a future relationship.The Fisheries White Paper Sustainable fisheries for future generations, published in July 2018, set out the Government’s intention to continue to co-operate closely with the EU and other coastal states on the sustainable management of fish stocks that cross borders, and states that “any decisions about giving access to our waters for vessels from the EU, or any other coastal states including Norway, will then be a matter for negotiation”.[2]

Brexit negotiations

As part of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement UK and EU have agreed there will be a transition or implementation period which will last from 30 March 2019 to 31 December 2020, during which the UK and EU have agreed that the UK will continue comply with the Common Fisheries Policy. Any backstop provisions will will exclude UK fishery and aquaculture products unless an agreement on access to waters and fishing oppurtunites has been reached with the EU.

Beyond the transition period, the maintenance of current arrangements for sharing fisheries resources after Brexit was referred to in the European Council’s draft negotiating guidelines for a future trade deal. This linked continued existing reciprocal access to fisheries to the proposal for a zero-tariff trade agreement. However, the UK Government’s Fisheries White Paper rejected the EU’s position that access to fisheries should be linked to any trade agreement, referring to the latter as “a separate question”.

Political Declaration setting out the Framework on the Future Relationship of 25 November 2018 includes a reference to a future agreement on access and quotas. It links any agreement on fisheries to the overall economic partnership, instead of setting it out as a requirement for any agreement on trade. The date for ratifying any fisheries agreement is set as 1 July 2020, which is before any trade agreement would come into force.

No deal and fisheries

A no deal Brexit, in which there was no transitional agreement on fisheries until the end of 2020, would mean that the UK would become an independent coastal state from March 2019 taking over responsibility for its Exclusive Economic Zone. The UK would no longer be bound by the Common Fisheries Policy and could deny access to EU Member States’ fishing vessels.

UK exports in fish and related products to the EU were worth £1.3 billion and comprised 70% of all UK fish exports from the UK by value. Fish imports from the EU were worth £1.1 billion (34% of all fish imports to the UK by value).[4] The impact of a no deal Brexit on the fisheries industry’s ability to export and trade are likely to be felt across the sector. In addition to the impacts of any tariffs, fisheries products, as all perishable products, could be impacted by any increased delays at borders resulting from greater custom controls.

The EU Commission published a preparedness notice to stakeholders on Fisheries and Aquaculture in April 2018, setting out how UK withdrawal would impact both the UK and EU sectors in the absence of any kind of withdrawal agreement. 

The Government published a technical note on commercial fisheries on 15 October 2018. The note covered access to UK and EU waters, access to UK and EU ports, import and export of fisheries products, labelling and funding.


[1]     Article 61(1) of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states that: “The coastal State shall determine the allowable catch of the living resources in its exclusive economic zone.”

[2]     Defra, Fisheries White Paper Sustainable fisheries for future generations, published July 2018

[3]     EFRA Select Committee Evidence Session, 17 July 2018, Fisheries, Q403

[4]     UK Trade Info database, downloaded in April 2018, using product code SITC 03 – ‘Fish, crustaceans, molluscs & aq. inverts & preps thereof’

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8396

Author: Elena Ares

Topics: EU external relations, EU institutions, EU law and treaties, Fisheries, Food, Marine environment

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