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Fisheries Law Changes

Jun 30, 2021

In November 2020 the UK introduced as part of it’s Brexit changes a new Fisheries Act 2020. Though UK waters will not in truth be UK alone for many years to come as the final deal with Brussels still holds the UK within parts of the European Common Fisheries Policy or (“CFP”) for some time to come. To be fair the CFP was ground breaking in it’s time forcing us in the UK like other then member states to consider sustainable fisheries, control and introduced VMS.

The UK’s desire to recover politically it’s waters preserving it’s fish is in many ways swimming against an international change from Territorial Seas as sovereign territorial rights towards Spatial Scope and shared ownership and control. However it was the implied view of the UK was that it could better control its own waters.

The historical back is. By the 1972 Act of Accession we had joined the Club and with it the CFP. With it as was decided in The Commission v UK [1981] ECR 1045 we gave the EC exclusive competence to adopt fisheries conservation measures in Community waters which meant and included UK waters.

In short summary the way this worked and to achieve agreement many individual member states including the UK had its issues the EU adopted by Regulation 2371/2002 what became known as the “Basic Regulation”

Through it we have “TACS” or Total allocated catches. For the catches of species or “fish of a particular species located within a specified geographical area” If you read Spain v Council [1992] 5191 at para 28

From TACS we have Quota and its allocation between Member States and their subjects. That itself is a longer article than this.

In which in the EU members agreed often with some difficulty “Technical Measures” to enable the CFP to hope to work. These include again in short the structure and size of fishing gear, methods of use, zones for fishing or prohibition or restriction, minimum size of fish which can be retained and special measures to protect certain areas or certain stock.

Though not everyone is willing to comply or sees the need when money is short. Like many things in life to allow a few to break a rule affects many who will comply. The effect was the introduction of at least eight “secondary rules” to control activity. These were; (1) Since 1993/4 Licences (though individual states had such arrangement before then, (2) introduction of Vessel Monitoring Systems “VMS”, (3) Log Books, (4) Fish and vessel presence reporting rules, (5) restrictions and control over transhipment, (6) the stowage of gear when not in use, (7) The method of sale, recording and sale or the “1st Buyer rules” and the “driving licence” arrangements for both vessel owner and skipper under Council Regulation (EC) 1224/2009 and Regulation 5 of Sea Fishing (Points for Masters of Fishing Boats) Regulations 2014.

In many ways Brexit cannot change and will not change a system which was carefully thought through. The purpose in the change was to ensure it was a fairer system for the UK which it seemingly was unable to renegotiate.

The New Act.

The new act is written in modern style setting out some 8 “fisheries objectives”;

1. Sustainability off fishing effort. Said to include environmental, economical and social sustainability. A system never to permit entire stogs to be “fished out” as some where in my Bay,

2. Precautionary Meaning fixing “Maximum Sustainable Yields”. Under the EFP all too often the collective governments new the quota allocated was more than the scientists thought should be caught but the ultimate allowed catch was often political,

3. Ecosystem Based. Or the common hope that the new regime would result in a reduction of “bye catch” of sensitive species,

4. With a Scientific Approach. Which of course Europe was always said to generate. It was Europe after all who moved us towards sustainable catches, quota, licences and VMS,

5. A concentrated effort to avoid Bycatch. The problems of catching or killing undersized or endangered fish types which have for many years been such a problem,

6. Equal Access. Meaning British Boats fishing British waters for British Fish. The problems remain that so many British sold their quota to Europeans for money and there remains argument over “historic” rights off others,

7. National Benefit. Or UK waters should benefit the UK economy and the local community,

8. Climate Change. Fish have no nation but swim where they want. As our waters change in temperature so will the fish within them.

To achieve all of these the Act anticipates a “Joint Fisheries Statement” or (“JFS”) to be drafted and agreed amongst the four devolved states and the Marine Management Organisation.

The devolved states being England, Scotland, Wales and the Norther Ireland office. The effect being ounce agreed then the MMO under the Maritime and Coastal Access Act 2009 of (“MACA”) and the Insure Fisheries “IFCA’s”.

Though it will be the JFS which will 

  • decide the amount and then distribution of quota of each fish stock to be released to individual vessels or the Fish Producer Organisations
  • The management plans will remain with the MMO under the system set up in MACA,
  • With an aim to restore fisheries stock to sustainable levels within UK waters. Or as stated the “Maximum Sustainable Yield” or “MSY”

The desire for MSY has never been easy as there seems never ending disagreement between fishing boats and scientists monitoring stock levels. The issue it is hoped under the act will be that if the European’s do not take all the fish before the new act takes full force the fight will be at least a British fight.

This does mean understanding a continued understanding of licensing for fishiers vessels. The expectation that the four devolved states or authorities will become the “Single Issuing Authorities” or “SIA’s” able to grant a right to fish within UK waters in areas for fish of type and quantity method and time of fishing.

So much the same as operates already in fact policed by MMO and inshore waters by the IFCA’s or in Wales WAG.

Dealing with the two contentious issues of “CQ” or “Catch Quota”. Or the maximum amount of individual fish type which can be landed by the British Vessel within “EO” or the maximum number of days allowed at sea.

For which therefore the recently introduced “driving licence” system for vessel and skipper will remain and probably be expanded. See the provisions of Regulation 5 and Sea Fishing (Points for Masters of Fishing Boats) Regulation 2014.

Can we Help?

This article is intended to be short but a background for fisheries articles to follow as the new act commences in operation. If I can help further please contact my web site at Hassall Law. This article is my view of the new legislation and is limited for that purpose.

David Hassall LLM MSc

Barrister at Law



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