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foreign waters

Could Brexit make Ireland's change to Sea Fisheries rules redundant?

Britain wants to use this break from the EU to keep its shores to itself – and revive its fishing industry.

THE GOVERNMENT’S AMENDMENT to the Sea Fisheries Bill could be unnecessary as Britain could leave the fishing arrangement the government are trying to comply with.

According to a report in The Telegraph, British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to announce within weeks that the UK will be pulling out of the 1964 London Convention, of which Ireland is also a member.

The agreement allows European fishing vessels to access waters six to twelve nautical miles from British shores, and includes the voisinage arrangement, which allows countries to fish between 0-6 nautical miles on their neighbours’ shores.

But there is no provision in Irish law for voisinage, as a recent court ruling showed. So the Irish government has been progressing an amendment through the Seanad to comply with those arrangements – over 50 years after they were first agreed.

But if Britain leaves the London Convention (which is considered outdated anyway), and since fishing boundaries and quotas will be renegotiated as part of Brexit talks, there seems little point in rushing the bill through (it got this far without being voted on).

download (3) Sea Fisheries Protection Authority Sea Fisheries Protection Authority

There’s been much controversy around the bill – with Senators Grace O’Sullivan, David Norris and Kevin Humphreys all voicing their concerns about the arrangement, which could see boats registering in Northern Ireland in order to fish in Irish shores.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed indicated that the reason for the government progressing the bill this far was to keep on Britain’s good side during Brexit negotiations:

Why would it be prudent today, as we seek to negotiate the best possible outcome for the Irish fishing industry in the context of Brexit, effectively to give two fingers to our neighbours in Northern Ireland and say they are not coming into our nought to six nautical mile zone, though we can still go North and would like to hold on to what we catch in their UK waters?


Meanwhile, EU fishing fleets are increasingly anxious about their future access to teeming British waters as Britain prepares to trigger the two-year countdown to its exit from the bloc.

Exclusive Right To Fish Rule -  Scottish Inshore Fishermen Scottish inshore fishermen at work off the east coast of Scotland, near Bass rock. David Cheskin / PA Images David Cheskin / PA Images / PA Images

Fleets from nine EU countries including France, Germany and Spain have banded together in a newly-created European Fisheries Alliance, formerly launched at the European Parliament last week, warning of steep losses if divorce proceedings turn bitter.

European fleets obtain one-third of their catch in the exclusive economic zone around the British Isles, and loss of access to those waters could cut their profits in half in the short term, the fishing alliance says.

In the long term, EU fleets could lose a combined 500 to 600 vessels if they were excluded from British waters, representing 15% of the total, and up to 3,000 fleet jobs.

From 2011 to 2015, European fleets caught 700,000 tonnes of fish and seafood in British waters, valued at about €612 million, the NAFC said in a report published in January.

British vessels, by contrast, caught just 92,000 tonnes, valued at 110 million pounds, in other EU waters.

Loads to go around

And the European Fisheries Alliance notes that Britain cannot eat all the salmon, lobster, scallops and other fish and seafood its boats produce: about 70% of production, worth a billion euros a year, is exported to its European partners.

Despite this, a UK parliament White Paper published in December found that the majority of fish consumed in Britain are imported.

“Continued access to free, or preferential, trade in fish and seafood will therefore be crucial for the seafood industry and UK consumers” after Brexit, the paper said.

And depending on whether Britain negotiates a “hard” or “soft” exit, the viability of dozens of fishing centres, from Concarneau in France and Rostock in Germany or Gdansk in Poland, could be at stake.

But others say that leaving the EU would give Britain a chance to revive homegrown fleets.

“Brexit is an opportunity for the UK to revitalise its fishing industry, stabilise threatened ecosystems and create thousands of new jobs,” said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director in Europe for Oceana, an environmental advocacy group.

“But this will only happen if overfishing is stopped.”

With reporting from © – AFP 2017

Read: The government wants to open up Ireland’s exclusive fishing boundaries – and Senators aren’t happy

Poll: Should Northern Ireland boats be allowed to fish off the Republic of Ireland’s coasts?

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