The UK’s withdrawal from an arrangement allowing other countries to fish in British waters is an aggressive step, but not totally surprising, according to one of the country’s largest fish producers’ group.
The British government will trigger exit from the London Fisheries Convention, signed in 1964 before joining the EU, to start the two-year process to leave the agreement.
The convention grants rights to neighbouring countries to fish in each other’s fishing zones based on historic fishing activity. It allows vessels from Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of the UK’s coastline.
The Irish fishing fleet has access to parts of the UK six to 12-mile zone, as has the UK fleet to parts of the Irish zone.
These access rights were incorporated into the EU Common Fisheries Policy.
Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, said it is an aggressive measure by the British.
“We are not surprised, we did expect it,” he said. “The access for us is huge but the access between six and 12 is not our greatest priority, our access is between 12-mile limit and 200 UK-wide limit. That is the important one.”
The EU Common Fisheries Policy allows all European countries access between 12 and 200 nautical miles of the UK, and sets quotas for how much fish nations can catch.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, said: “The announcement by the UK Government is unwelcome and unhelpful.
“It is a part of Brexit and will be considered by the EU 27 member states and the (Michel) Barnier team when the negotiations commence.”
Mr Creed said: “Brexit poses very serious challenges to the seafood sector, and this announcement will form part of the negotiations.”
However, British ministers claim the move will help take back control of fishing access to UK waters, as it will no longer be bound by existing access agreements, and enable the country to become fully responsible for fisheries management.
UK vessels will also lose the right to fish in the waters six to 12 nautical miles offshore of the other countries.
British Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “Leaving the London Fisheries Convention is an important moment as we take back control of our fishing policy.
“It means for the first time in more than 50 years we will be able to decide who can access our waters.
“This is an historic first step towards building a new domestic fishing policy as we leave the European Union —one which leads to a more competitive, profitable and sustainable industry for the whole of the UK.”
Barrie Deas, chief executive of the British National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said: “This is welcome news and an important part of establishing the UK as an independent coastal state with sovereignty over its own exclusive economic zone.”
The UK fishing industry was made up of more than 6,000 vessels in 2015, landing 708,000 tonnes of fish worth €890m.
Some 10,000 tonnes of fish was caught by other countries under the convention, worth an estimated €20m.
Scotland’s Fisheries Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “The UK Government’s decision to withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention is a move we have been pressing for some time now.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.