Will Brexit spell the end of fishing quotas?

The Leave campaign promised that Brexit would help fishers ‘take back control’ of Britain’s fishing waters and stocks. But how quotas are allocated has always been a national decision.

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Fishing quotas to serve the public interest

There are many different ways to manage fishing quota. A 2017 report looks at 12 EU countries and how their fishing industries perform across 12 objectives to ensure that the system of fishing rights is good for fishers and for society.

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Fishing quotas for market?

The Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) has proposed that fishing quotas become fully tradable commodities, as in Iceland, where quotas can be bought and sold on an open market. The Adam Smith Institute has a similar proposal, coupled with a nautical border around British waters that is policed by air and naval patrols (the IEA calls this “protectionist policy” that would lower fishing efficiency).

From fishing quotas to days-at-sea?

The proposal from Fishing for Leave and several fishing associations to end quota management in favour of limits on days-at-sea is significant for what is not said, as much as what is said. Management through days-at-sea is an attempt to solve the problem of ‘choke species’ in quota management (where fishers catching a mix of species will exhaust their quota for one species and need to stop fishing, even if quotas for other species are still held).

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What next?

Regardless of how Brexit negotiations pan out, the UK government should reform its allocation policies so that fishing rights are publicly owned, reallocated to ensure viability, incentivise better fishing practices, controlled by fishers, and help pay for management. Without reforming how fishing quotas are allocated, changes to UK fisheries from Brexit will only reinforce a broken system.

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