March 2, 2021

“We cannot negotiate access and fishing quotas with the UK every year”




This Sunday London and Brussels they have given themselves more time to reach some kind of agreement that avoids a harsh divorce between both parties, while anxiety and unease spread among the English and the queues of trucks in the Eurotunnel increase. The discrepancies remain the same: how to ensure fair competition between both parties and access to British fishing grounds by the European fishing fleet, including 88 Spanish vessels with 2,150 crew. We spoke to Javier Garat, president of the European employers’ association Europêche and general secretary of Cepesca (Spanish Fisheries Confederation) about the latter:

-What consequences for the Spanish fleet could an eventual closure of British waters due to a hard Brexit represent? Is there a risk that the activity will stop?

Spanish ships and those of the European Union (EU) would have to leave the United Kingdom’s fishing ground, not being able to enter those waters. We are talking about 88 Spanish ships, what we know as the «Fleet of Great Sun» with 2,150 crew members and they catch around 50,000 tons per year worth 155 million euros, not only in English waters but also in those of France and Ireland. Within the UK they fish around9,000 tons per year, for a value of 27 million euros hake, rooster and monkfish, mainly.

All these vessels would be affected and they would have to leave and I quote the 50,000 tonnes, because we do not know if those companies that usually fish in British waters will be able to be profitable without access to those fishing grounds. They would also be affected another 55 ships of Spanish capital, but with the flag of France, Ireland, Belgium or Germany. In total, the European Union has about 3,000 ships fishing around 640,000 tonnes (about 650 million) in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Can it impact employment?

There is a risk that the fleet will temporarily stop, if we are expelled from its waters: those ships will have difficult to fit in the waters of France and especially in those of Ireland. They would have to look for life elsewhere. Therefore, it would be foreseeable that ships will temporarily have to stop and there will be consequences on employment. There are 88 ships with 2,150 crew of Vigo, Celeiro, Burela, Coruña, Ondárroa and Santander, that would clearly be affected.

“We are talking about 88 Spanish ships, what we know as the” Gran Sol Fleet “with 2,150 crew members that catch around 50,000 tons per year”

Is it still feasible to maintain the status quo? Should we now think about negotiating a fisheries treaty, like the one with third countries?

Our position remains the same and the negotiating mandate that the European Commission has is bet on the status quo. As in any negotiation, there are its tug of war and, in the end, both parties tend to give in. Here we do not know what is going to happen, so we bet on a final result that is as similar as possible. Is it necessary to negotiate a fisheries treaty? The reality is that they have been trying for many months. The difference is that the European Union is linking it to the trade agreement, because it is ours main negotiating asset. If not linked, the UK will greatly benefit from the no-trade free trade agreement. One of them should be to be able to access its waters anyway. Yes, you have to negotiate with the United Kingdom as another third country.

What are the chances of a transitional regime being agreed?

Prime Minister Johnson is not for the job and we don’t know what will finally happen, but it would be the best until an agreement is closed with the same conditions that we have now. What we don’t want is what the United Kingdom proposed: to stay the same for two or three years and then they would throw us out of their waters. We want a long-term win-win agreement, minimum of 25 years, and that gives us legal security. We cannot negotiate access and fishing quotas every year.

Can a displacement of fleets due to a hard Brexit force a reorganization of fishing grounds within the European Union?

From the EUFA (European Fisheries Alliance) we have been warning for some time that a hard Brexit can have a strong impact on the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and in the standards we have today. Therefore, if it can force to reorganize the distribution of the fishing grounds. Of course, it would be a completely different world without access to those waters. We are talking about 640,000 tons that fish eight European countries (Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France, Holland, Ireland, Sweden and Spain). All those boats, about 3,000, having to relocate to other fishing grounds is really complicated.

“We must negotiate with the United Kingdom as another third country”

Norway also threatens to close its waters to community and British ships, is there some kind of negotiation with this country? I suppose there will be concern about this situation …

Indeed, there are certain stocks that are managed jointly so far between the European Union and Norway and from now on also with the United Kingdom. All this is at stake, but at the same time it is difficult to negotiate with Norway if an agreement with the United Kingdom is not closed first. With this country we have 119 shared stocks -fish populations- out of a total of 146, not only in the Atlantic Ocean but in the North Sea for other fleets from other countries. Therefore, all that negotiation with the British will have implications with the one with the Norwegians.

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