New EU-UK trade agreement outlines joint fish stocks management

The European Union and the United Kingdom have agreed on a new framework for the joint management of fish stocks in EU and UK waters following the recent conclusion of a new trade and cooperation agreement.

The EU said in a statement that, under the agreement, the UK will be able to further develop British fishing activities, while the activities and livelihoods of European fishing communities will be safeguarded, and natural resources preserved.

The agreement was drafted in the wake of the UK’s withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy as a result of its withdrawal from the EU.

The Common Fisheries Policy is the EU’s joint legal framework providing for equal access to EU waters for member states, as well as stable arrangements for quota-sharing and the sustainable management of resources.

By leaving the Common Fisheries Policy, the UK becomes an independent coastal state, which changes the setting for fisheries management in the North-East Atlantic Ocean and in the North Sea. The EU and UK will then become responsible, under international law, for jointly managing approximately 100 shared fish stocks.

UK waters (i.e. the territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles and adjacent exclusive economic zone up to 200 nautical miles) will no longer be part of EU waters. In the absence of any provisions to the contrary, access to each other’s waters would no longer be guaranteed.

The trade and cooperation agreement sets out new arrangements for the joint and sustainable management of some hundred shared fish stocks in EU and UK waters, in full respect of each parties’ rights and obligations as independent coastal states, and based on best available scientific advice. It also sets out new provisions on reciprocal access to waters in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and in the six to 12 mile nautical zone, as well as on new stable arrangements for sharing quotas.

Under the agreement there will be a gradual phasing in of any changes of quota shares and provisions on access to waters. After a period of stability of 5.5 years, during which the current rules will remain in place regarding reciprocal access, the agreement provides for annual consultations to establish the level and conditions of reciprocal access to each party’s EEZs and territorial waters.

The EU and the UK will hold annual consultations to jointly determine the total allowable catch (TAC) for each stock – i.e. the maximum quantities of a stock (or stocks) of a particular description that may be caught over a given period. This shall be done taking into account scientific advice on conservation needs, as well as relevant socio-economic factors.

These TACs will then be allocated to each party in accordance with the quota shares set out in the agreement. However, if the parties fail to agree on a TAC, a provisional TAC will be defined corresponding to the level advised by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) until an agreement is reached.

Access to each other’s waters will be granted to make use of the available fishing opportunities. After an adjustment period, when current full access remains in place, levels and conditions of reciprocal access to waters will be decided in annual consultations.

After the adjustment period, if one party withdraws access to the other party due to a lack of agreement on total allowable catches, the other party may apply compensatory measures, including the suspension of tariff concessions for fisheries products or the suspension of access, in part or in whole, to its waters. Such compensatory measures shall be proportionate to the economic and societal difficulties caused by the withdrawal of access.

A party can also take measures, for example, to suspend parts of the agreement, under the general safeguard clause of the agreement, in case the closure of waters creates serious or social difficulties for fisheries activities and the communities that depend on them.

The EU added that the UK’s Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man are not part of the UK but are represented internationally by the UK and therefore subject to specific rules in the agreement, safeguarding the rights of vessels that are currently fishing in their waters.

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