Press Releases

Brexit poses severe threat to Britain’s fishing communities’

EU departure likely to will see some fishers – mainly small boats – do far worse than others.

  • Brexit is almost certain to hit fishing communities hard, new research suggests
  • Boats without quota, processors, retailers and wholesalers will be worse off under nearly all Brexit scenarios
  • Brexit could lead to an increase in overfishing, with disastrous environmental and economic results
  • New Economics Foundation urges the UK government to pursue co-operative approach to Brexit negotiations and use quota to help small boats

Brexit will almost certainly have a negative economic impact on large parts of Britain’s fishing industry and the coastal communities which rely on it. That’s the key finding of a new report by the New Economics Foundation which analyses different Brexit scenarios according to their impact on different parts of the fishing fleet.

The report – called Not in the Same Boat: The economic impact of Brexit across UK fishing fleets – uses five Brexit scenarios ranging from No Deal’ to Soft Brexit’. It finds that it is only in the highly unlikely Fisheries First’ scenario (where Britain puts fisheries above all other interests in Brexit negotiations and the EU does not prioritise fisheries) that there will be benefits across the UK fleet.

In the more likely scenarios, Brexit will see some fishers – mainly small boats – do far worse than others. The rest of the fishing supply chain – processors, wholesalers and retailers – is highly exposed to the risks of tariffs and non-tariff barriers. That means that under any likely Brexit scenario, coastal communities in the UK will be worse off.

The report also highlights the danger of overfishing as a result of UK politicians and industry leaders promising more quota while European leaders promising not to decrease quota. An increase in overfishing would be both environmentally and economically disastrous for all concerned, as the report findings show.

Summary of results:

Scenario Description Assumption Winners Losers
No Brexit No Brexit (serves as a base case). The UK remains in the EU Common Fisheries Policy and single market. No change. No change.
Hard Brexit A Hard Brexit increases quota and access based on the UK’s new Exclusive Economic Zone, but results in the EU continuing its fishing pressure on stocks and applying the highest tariff rates. The UK can claim territorial waters without historical access rights. The EU would respond with tools available. Approximately half the fleet experiences an improvement in economic performance (earnings, profits, wages). These vessels have significant quota holdings and include most large and small-scale vessels using trawls, nets, and hooks. There is a reduction in economic performance for fleets where the impact of tariffs outweighs gains in quota and access. This includes approximately half the fleet, mostly small-scale pots & traps – the largest fleet segment by number of vessels.
Soft Brexit The UK cedes some of its claimed quota shares and access to the UK’s new Exclusive Economic Zone in exchange for lower tariffs on UK fish exports to the EU. Lower tariffs and barriers are worth trading-off against access rights and quota shares. There is little change in economic performance. Despite the trade-off, it is still the vessels holding the large quota shares that improve performance. There is little change in economic performance. With lower tariffs, most of the economic impact is lessened. Most vessels are worse off but most fishers better off.
Fisheries First Brexit The UK avoids any trade-offs in fisheries, securing increases in quota and exclusive access with the EU responding by reducing its quota share and not imposing import tariffs. The fishing industry is prioritised as a key UK sector and ignored by the EU. The largest gain in economic performance (earnings, profits, wages) for the UK catching sector as a whole. All UK fleet segments are better off. There are no losses in the UK fleet compared to the status quo.
Fisheries Last Brexit Left out of negotiations, there is no change in quota or access to waters and tariffs are not negotiated down for fish products. Other, larger, UK sectors are prioritised. There are no gains in the UK fleet compared to the status quo. The largest loss in economic performance (earnings, profits, wages) for all fleet segments. All UK fleet segments are worse off.
No Deal Brexit The UK claims high quota shares and access to waters, but the EU responds with high tariff and non-tariff barriers, and fails to reduce its own quota share or fishing pressure. Brexit negotiations turn sour and the most adversarial outcomes prevail. Improvement in economic performance (earnings, profits, wages) for fleet segments with large quota holdings. Similar to Hard Brexit, but with smaller gains. Reduction in economic performance for fleets segments with small quota holdings. Similar to Hard Brexit, but with larger losses.

Griffin Carpenter, Senior Researcher at the New Economics Foundation, said:

For many of Brexit’s most passionate advocates, the fishing industry has been a totemic issue. They claim we can take back control of our waters and give more quota to struggling fishers. But in reality, the UK has always been able to decide who gets quota –and it has always been the little boats that have lost out.

Our research shows that Brexit will almost certainly make things worse for much of Britain’s fishing fleet, as well as the already struggling coastal communities which rely on fishing. Half of Britain’s fleet don’t have any quota but do export to Europe. Brexit will hit them particularly hard.

Brexit poses a severe threat to Britain’s fishing communities, as the majority of ports receive most of their landings from vessels that do not hold quota but do export to the EU market. As ministers negotiate a future fishing deal, they must be clear on the scale of this threat.”

The report makes a series of recommendations aimed at securing a healthier future for the British fishing fleet through Brexit and beyond. These include:

  • Dropping combative rhetoric in Brexit negotiations and focusing on a co-operative approach
  • Using any increase in quota to support the smaller boats which traditionally lose out
  • Seeking a post-Brexit transition deal for at least two years
  • Securing access to the EU market with minimum tariffs and non-tariff barriers
  • Empowering fishers through co-management and increased representation for the small-scale fleet
  • Generating funding for management through a landings tax

Griffin Carpenter continued:

We need a fishing policy which supports all British fishers and coastal communities, and which does not harm our marine environment. We will only get this if we seek to co-operate with our neighbours and use existing powers of quota allocation to support those fishers who traditionally lose out.

We can take control of our waters, but that doesn’t happen just by shouting about it. It happens by working with our neighbours to ensure shared stocks are fished sustainably, and barriers to trade are minimal. And it happens by empowering all fishers – large-scale or small-scale, local sellers or fish exporters, quota-rich or quota-poor – so they can build truly sustainable local economies. That would be real control.”

Download the report.

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