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EU - Why Brexit Talks Have Become Snagged on Fishing

Why is fishing proving to be so intractable in the post-Brexit negotiations?

Essentially for one reason: the claims made by Brexiters that Britain will be able to run a completely different national policy, reserve all rights to fish in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to UK fishers, and still export without impediment to the rest of Europe, are pie in the sky. As the House of Lords report on the issue said: “The vote to leave… has raised expectations for the future of fisheries policy that may be hard to deliver.”

Right to fish

While the headlines (and government statements) have been about EU vessels access to UK waters (and vice versa), the real issue is not about where the fish are caught but how much is caught – wherever that happens, and how to share it out. Fish have the unfortunate habit of swimming from one country’s waters to another, and joint management is the only way to prevent overfishing from depleting stocks. Many species spend various stages of their life cycles in different countries’ waters and their spawning grounds are often in a different area from where they are caught when mature.

Practical reality, therefore, means that joint decisions have to be reached on sharing out fishing rights and then enforcing respect for what has been agreed.

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