Fishing: Why is fishing important in Brexit trade talks?

By Chris Morris
BBC Reality Check

Publishedduration1 day ago

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Fishing has always been an emotional issue in the UK’s relationship with the European Union, and it’s no surprise that it is one of the final outstanding issues in the post-Brexit trade talks.

Supporters of Brexit see it as a symbol of sovereignty that will now be regained. The UK says any new agreement on fisheries must be based on the understanding that “British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats”.

But the EU wants access for its boats and says reaching a “fair deal” on fisheries is a pre-condition for a free trade agreement (with no tariffs or taxes on goods crossing borders).

So, while fishing is a tiny part of the economy on both sides of the Channel, it carries big political weight.

How do fishing controls work?

The UK formally left the EU on 31 January, but is still bound by the EU’s rules, including its Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), until the end of this year.

That means the fishing fleets of every country involved have full access to each other’s waters, apart from the first 12 nautical miles (14 miles; 22km) out from the coast.

But they can’t catch whatever they like. EU ministers gather for marathon talks every December to haggle over the volume of fish that can be caught from each species.

National quotas are then divided up using historical data going back to the 1970s, when the UK fishing industry says it got a bad deal.

That’s why the government wants to increase the British quota share significantly.

It’s an argument complicated by the fact that parts of the British quota have been sold off by British skippers to boats based elsewhere in the EU.

In England, for example, more than half the quota is in foreign hands.

Overall, more than 60% of the tonnage landed from British waters is caught by foreign boats.

How could Brexit change this?

Outside the EU, as an “independent coastal state”, the UK will control what’s known as an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), stretching up to 200 nautical miles into the North Atlantic.

Inside the EU, the EEZs of all member countries are managed jointly as a common resource.

The government wants to hold annual talks on access to UK and EU waters, and on quotas – using a system that works out shares based on the percentage of each species of fish in each EEZ (this is known as “zonal attachment”).

That’s what other independent coastal states such as Norway do. And fishing communities in the UK, which were strong supporters of the campaign to leave the EU, are insisting on this basic change.

But because UK waters are so important,

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