Brexit is an opportunity for many fresh starts, and with each potential fresh start comes a bone to pick between the UK and the EU. The most problematic is appropriately over fishing rights in UK waters, where more than 60% of the catch in British waters is caught by foreign boats (BBC News, 2020).
The current rules governing those waters are determined under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Fishing controls in the EU operate through national quotas over the volume of fish that can be caught from each species – the quotas allocated to the British fisheries have long earned the UK the reputation of negotiating a bad deal.
The UK is bound to CFP regulations until the 31st of December 2020, but given how emotional the fishing issue is, negotiations between the UK and the EU aren’t making much progress.
Indeed, UK waters are very important with over 75 species of fish, and an entire fishing community heavily supporting the leave campaign and advocating for a “zonal attachments” system that independent coastal states such as Norway use.
Negotiations aren’t just held up over where the fish is caught, but more importantly where the product is sold: the majority of UK fish are sold to states of the EU, exporting nearly 448,000 tonnes of fish in 2018 (BBC News, 2020).
Therefore, if a deal is not reached, tariffs and taxes would be imposed on produce such as herring, salmon, and shellfish, industries that would most likely crumble in the face of competition (Huggins, 2019).
Needless to say, COVID-19 has made the situation all the more precarious. Businesses everywhere have been weakened, making it in the interest of both sides to agree.
Fisheries stand to lose 500 million pounds according to a Netherlands study, having a disproportionate effect on different areas of the industry (Institute for Government, 2020). More needs to be done to prepare fisheries to comply with whatever conclusions the UK and the EU come to.
It is crucial that the two parties come to an agreement. But what is standing in the way? While the UK stands to lose a lot of business, it is currently making a point to prove its sovereignty. A compromise might come at the cost of its principles for sovereignty and total control of access (Rankin, 2020).
Withholding a free trade deal over fish is unlikely, but making the negotiations about the UK’s ability to stand up to the EU is harmful to the progression of a Brexit deal. Fishing for a Brexit deal might not be so complicated if compromise is on the table, and the total sovereignty and independence cards removed.