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EU Vessels Landing Even More Fish from UK Waters

EU fishing vessels have been increasing the amount of fish they catch in UK waters at a much faster rate than the UK’s own boats.

Analysis of official landings data carried out for Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) shows that between 2011 and 2018 vessels from the EU27 landed 60% more fish and shellfish from the UK Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) while UK boats landed just 17% more.

For pelagic species such as mackerel and herring the increase was even more marked, with EU vessels landing 159% more fish from the UK EEZ over the same period compared with just 60% more for UK boats.

Catches in the UK EEZ have been increasing as a reflection of improved stocks across a broad range of species.

The analysis, carried out by Dr Ian Napier of the NAFC Marine Centre UHI based in Scalloway, Shetland, highlights the huge disparity between overseas vessels, which landed more than two-thirds of the two million tonnes of fish worth £1.7 billion caught in the UK EEZ in 2018, and UK boats.

Simon Collins, SFA executive officer, said: “If ever there was a case for the UK escaping the iron grip of the Common Fisheries Policy, this is it.

“Not content with the fact that overseas vessels were already taking two-thirds of what should be a national natural resource, administrators have gunned the system to ensure that EU27 vessels in particular have taken the biggest share of the increase in catches that have come about due to stock improvements in recent years.

“The UK’s assertion of sovereignty over its own waters at the end of this year will allow us at last to address this outrageous imbalance. Independent coastal states cannot be pushed around in this manner.”

Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said: "Dr Napier's report draws attention to the growing inequity of distribution catching opportunity between the UK on the one hand and the EU27 on the other. It is this imbalance that the Scottish industry has campaigned steadfastly to bring to an end with the UK leaving the CFP and becoming an independent, sovereign coastal state with full control over access to our waters."

Dr Napier’s figures also show that around half of the demersal or whitefish stocks caught in the UK EEZ in 2018 (a total of 250,000 tonnes worth more than £500 million) were landed by non-UK vessels.

Meanwhile, 1.4 million tonnes of pelagic fish worth £760 million were landed from the UK EEZ. More than three-quarters of this total volume (and two-thirds by value) was landed by non-UK vessels.


A recent teleconference organised by Defra, was held to discuss the contents of the Benyon Report, by ex-Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon, on Highly Protected Marine Areas. The meeting revealed the strength of feeling across the fishing industry against an attempt to shoehorn No Take Zones into the already established process for designating and managing marine protected areas.

Comments from across the industry spectrum emphasised that there is much in the report to concern the fishing industry, both in the content of the report and the way it came about.

Questions were raised about the independence of the Chairman, the balance within the panel, and why organisations representing the fishing industry had been excluded. The Chairman’s past judgement as a leading proponent of the EU landing obligation, and in his subsequent action in joining the Blue Marine Foundation were also highlighted.

The confusion at the heart of the report about what Highly Protected Marine Areas would be for was commented on. Was the purpose of HPMAs to:

Provide a scientific control area? In which case, no rigorous case had been made that would stand up to scientific scrutiny Or were HPMAs being pushed as part of a wider advocacy campaign for No Take Zones? - a back-door way of managing fisheries - or more extreme - a romantic project for rewilding the seas.

The meeting confirmed that there is a lot for the fishing industry to be fearful about in this report – especially for small-scale inshore fisheries - where the operating range of the vessel is limited and impacts on livelihoods would be severe.

During the course of the meeting, the NFFO made clear that: We are not and never have been against marine protected areas or doing what is necessary to protect vulnerable conservation features and sensitive marine habitats. The fishing industry recognises that we have a responsibility to ensure that our ecological footprint is as small as possible. We have been jointly working with government on the best way to achieve that protection, using an evidence-based, measured and proportionate approach. Fishing contributes to feeding the nation and provides incomes and livelihoods for many. Providing adequate protection for marine ecosystems and fishing livelihoods and communities is therefore a question of: Balance; Knowledge about what we are doing; A sense of proportion.

The establishment of MPAs deserves a calm, thorough, and respectful relationship between the fishing industry and the Government – that’s what we thought we had

But if the recommendations of this report are accepted, and implemented, we will be on course for years of conflict - when we could be doing something much more constructive

Leaving the EU provides an opportunity to do things better. Replicating the EU’s top-down, centralised, and blunt approach would not be a good start – especially if it caused irreparable harm to what many inside and outside Parliament consider to be an iconic industry

The Federation paid tribute to Nathan de Rozarieux’s efforts on the panel to bring some sense of rigour, balance and sense of proportion to this report.

Fisheries Minister, Victoria Prentis MP, who participated in part of the call, emphasised that the Benyon Report, was not government policy. A process was now underway, to develop a government response to the report. That would be published in due course and would inform future policy. In the meantime, Defra would be engaging with the fishing industry to understand its concerns and perspectives.

The Benyon Report has managed to unite the fishing industry in opposition to a badly-timed, ill-judged, initiative of dubious provenance and confused purpose