EU boats fish in UK waters?

Gove: EU boats able to operate in UK waters post-Brexit

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Will the UK win back their waters after Brexit, or were they not lost in the first place?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

The rhetoric of the Leave campaign during the EU referendum campaign was that British waters were lost to the European Union, and it was now time to take them back. However, the UK did not forfeit the waters - and what's contained within them, fish - for membership; being part of the bloc actually helped Britain save their waters.

As a member of the EU - or for however long that may be - Britain shares a Common Fisheries Policy, where a set tonnage of specific fish - known as the Total Allowance Catch (TAC) - can be caught within EU waters and then divided between each member state.

The TAC is largely based on how much each member state fished in those areas in the 1970s, before the policy came into effect.

The Common Fisheries Policy has been found to help the UK's fisheries, according to Open Democracy. By responding to decreasing fish populations, which are producing fewer offspring, reducing fishing pressure could rebuild stock, leading to larger harvests in the future.

The waters and the fish have not been lost during the UK's membership to the European Union. In an analysis of the 118 years of industrial fishing in the UK, the vast majority of the fish numbers decline happened prior to the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy.

However, it is estimated that 29 of the 33 most important commercial fish species are overfished. The EU's quota system, TAC, is a viable way to stock recovery.

There is no need to take back control, either, because the UK already dominates fishing, compared to other EU members. In 2004, it had the fourth largest catch at 652,000 tonnes. In 2014, the UK became the second largest catch with 752,000 tonnes. In Scotland alone, the total value of fish caught by their vessels last year was £563 million, an increase of 29 per cent compared with 2015. The quantity of fish, according to investigative journalism website The Ferret, has increased three per cent to 453,300 tonnes.

The Financial Times argues that the UK and the EU need each other to manage fish - and tearing up treaties as a result of Brexit could be bad news. Fish are a shared resource, and there should be shared management for both economical and environmental reasons. By going it alone, the competitiveness over fishing could undo progress towards sustainable fishing.

Winning back the waters does not necessarily mean you will win back the fish. As the Conversation observes, fish do not "respect political boundaries". Many of the commercial species are actually tourists, with mackerel, herring and cod being highly mobile and moving easily across borders.

The waters and the fish did not magically disappear, and the UK did not relinquish control, when Britain joined the European Union and the Common Fisheries Policy. It has helped towards more sustainable fishing in the bloc. Upon leaving the EU, there may be many things unsustainable for post-Brexit Britain, alongside the fish.

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