Countdown to Brexit: 51 days – Future fishing rights negotiations delayed – and Royal Navy strengthens UK fishery patrol fleet

It is unlikely that discussions on EU-UK fishing arrangements will begin before Parliament accepts the deal and the UK enters the post-Brexit transition period on 30 March 2019 – according Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee report, published this week.

The Committee examined evidence from the Fisheries Minister including 2019 quotas and plans to reduce the discarding of unwanted fish.

Working arrangements during the post-Brexit implementation period are unlikely to take place until there is certainty that the UK will enter an implementation period.  The importance of establishing such arrangements is accentuated by the EU agreement on quotas for 2019.

Meanwhile, The Royal Navy is boosting the UK’s fishery patrol fleet ahead of Brexit.  Trouble between British and French scallop fishermen off the coast of France in Autumn 2018 – which prompted calls for the Navy to step in – have cast doubts on the Navy’s Fishery Protection Squadron ability to maintain peace and protection of UK fishing rights – and even more so in a no-deal Brexit.

The Royal Navy’s Fishery Protection Squadron patrols the UK’s “Extended Fisheries Zone” with the remit and responsibility to:

  • enforce fishery protection laws by patrolling the British fishery limits and conducting inspections of fishing vessels;
  • inspect fishing vessels in the offshore waters of England, Wales and Northern Ireland;
  • perform “other tasks such as counter-piracy, counter-smuggling, counter-terrorism, border control and humanitarian/disaster relief”.

‘Marine Scotland’ is responsible for patrolling the waters off the Scottish coast since fishery protection is a devolved matter.  Scotland had a dedicated Royal Navy vessel until 1999.

At the time of writing, the squadron comprises four Offshore Patrol Vessels – three type 1s: HMS Clyde, Tyne and Mersey; and first of the new type 2s: HMS Forth.  The four remaining Type 2’s should be in service by the end of 2020.

The Squadron has for many years deployed three vessels in UK waters with HMS Clyde permanently based in the South Atlantic as the Falkland Islands patrol vessel.

In 2013 the Government announced that it was buying three new type 2 ‘River-class’ OPVs.  A further two were ordered in 2016.  This was originally designed to sustain work and keep shipbuilding skills in the UK at in BAE Systems’ shipyards until they begin work on the new Type 26 frigates.  The additional craft may well be needed urgently in a no-deal Brexit and no agreement on fishing rights between UK and EU.

We reported on this in detail in our ‘seasonal’ insight:  “Three French Coques”


There were face offs and altercations between French and British fishermen off the coast of France in August/September 2018.  Dubbed ‘the Scallop Wars’ there were echoes of the ‘Cod Wars’ of the 60’s and 70’s.

The UK Government declared the Bay of Seine to be: “the responsibility of the French authorities” – and the Fishery Protection Squadron is unable to enter the waters of another country without invitation, except in very limited circumstances, such as: protection of life at sea in the event of there being a threat to life, or protection of the right of innocent passage in order to enable vessels to transit through an area without interference.”

In November 2018 the Defence Secretary announced that three Offshore Patrol Vessels will be retained in service for at least two more years, “to bolster the UK’s ability to protect our fishing fleet” as the UK exits the EU.  They will be built in Scotland at BAE Systems’ yards on the Clyde

The new vessels have a flight deck for a Merlin-sized helicopter; are faster; carry a bigger gun; and can accommodate up to 50 troops/Royal Marines.

Impact of a no-deal Brexit on Fishing and Fisheries

From 23:00 GMT on 29 March 2019, the UK will control and manage access to fish in UK waters, and be responsible for managing its:

  • territorial waters (out to 12 nautical miles)
  • Exclusive Economic Zone (out to 200 nautical miles or the median line with other states)

The UK will make sure that fisheries control and enforcement continue.

UK-registered vessels that are fishing in UK waters must continue to comply with the law and the conditions of their licence.

Non-UK-registered vessels will no longer have automatic access to UK waters – subject to any existing agreements covering territorial waters.

There will be no automatic access for UK-registered vessels to fish in EU or third country waters – subject to any existing agreements covering territorial waters.

If you’re a UK quota holder, the UK fisheries administrations will tell you what your allocation will be.  They aim to do this during March 2019.

The Government will also confirm arrangements for:

  • non-quota shellfish (scallops and edible/spider crabs)
  • demersal species under the Western Waters effort regime.

There will be no automatic access for:

  • the UK Fisheries Administrations to exchange fishing opportunities with EU member states; or
  • EU member states to exchange fishing opportunities with the UK

Prepare for the UK joining the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC).  For UK-registered vessels to continue fishing in the convention area, and landing into the EU, they must hold a current UK domestic licence.   You’ll need this before you can apply for an international licence from the relevant fisheries authority.  You’ll also need to register with the NEAFC’s electronic Port State Control system.

The UK will join all relevant “Regional Fisheries Management Organisations – RFMOs – as quickly as possible.  The UK will no longer be a member of RFMOs through its EU membership.  The joining process may take up to 6 months, so there may be a gap in our membership.

During this time, UK vessels may not be able to fish in international waters covered by RFMOs.  The Government will keep fishermen informed of progress and what the outcome of a decision will mean in practice.

If you have a UK-registered vessel, you’ll no longer have an automatic right to land fish in any EU port.  You will be allowed access to EU designated ports for:

  • port services
  • landings
  • transhipment
  • the use of market facilities – where vessels meet EU requirements on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

You must notify the relevant Fisheries Monitoring Centre of your intention to arrive into a designated port of the vessel and catch related information.

You’ll be allowed access to EU designated ports and third country ports without first telling the port of your plan to visit in cases of:

  • distress
  • an unexpected event (force majeure)

Your vessel may be inspected.  This could include:

  • a full document check
  • inspection of the catch
  • database checks (if you’ve supplied information electronically)
  • Non-UK vessels, including EU vessels, will need to follow the same rules that will apply to UK-registered vessels accessing an EU port.  For example, they’ll need to give notice of their plans to land, except in cases of distress and unexpected events (force majeure).

EU vessels fishing in the NEAFC Convention Area and landing into the UK will need to complete a Port State Control form.

A catch certificate will be needed for importing or exporting most fish and fish products between the UK and EU.

You will not need a catch certificate for trade in:

  • some aquaculture products
  • freshwater fish
  • some molluscs
  • fish fry
  • larvae

The rules on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing will not change.

You will need a catch certificate with each consignment of fish or fishery products you export to the EU.  It will be your responsibility as the exporter to complete a catch certificate.

If the consignment will be sourced from more than one UK vessel, you’ll need to complete a Multiple Vessel Schedule.

You’ll need to submit this along with the catch certificate.

Vessel owners or skippers making direct landings of UK vessels into EU ports will also need to issue a catch certificate.

You’ll need verification for the content of a catch certificate from the UK fisheries authority where the vessel is licensed.  You will need this before submitting the content to the competent authority in the EU country of import.  The UK fisheries authorities are:

  • the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) in England
  • Marine Scotland
  • the Department of Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland
  • Welsh Government

The UK fisheries authorities are developing an IT system to deal with the increase in export catch certificates.

EU-caught fish and fishery products being imported to the UK will need a catch certificate for each:

  • consignment
  • direct landing of fish or fishery products.

The exporter will have to submit the certificate to the Port Health Authorities or relevant fisheries authority.

The certificate will need to be checked at least 3 working days before the estimated arrival time into the UK.  This deadline could be adapted to take account of the type of fishery or distance from fishing ground to port.

The rules and standards for labelling and marketing in the EU and UK will stay the same for:

  • fish sold for human consumption
  • fish and aquaculture products

The roles of Producer Organisations will also stay the same.

The UK government has guaranteed that all European Maritime and Fisheries Fund projects that are approved before 31 December 2020 will be fully funded.

Trade in the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) – within and outside the EU – will remain subject to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  This means the UK will not be able to import or export European eel.  Most of the eel (Anguilla japonica) consumed in the UK is imported from China – thus the impact on consumers should be limited.


European Scrutiny Committee Report

The Fisheries Bill 2017-19 

UK Fisheries Management 

The National Shipbuilding Strategy: January 2018 update