“Fishing could derail the difficult Brexit negotiations”

On board the trawler “Good Fellowship”, in the North Sea, off the north-east of England, January 21, 2020.

Losses & profits. We knew the famous fish, so big that it could block the port of Marseille, here are others, just as appetizing, which could well derail the difficult negotiations on the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union (EU ). Last chance meetings follow one another in close ranks, and at the highest level of the executive. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is traveling to Brussels on Wednesday 9 September to try to wrest a deal.

The very delicate Irish affair has been bypassed and, of the three remaining blocking subjects, including the conditions of competition, it is curiously the small subject of fishing which is the most sensitive. This sector represents 0.1% of the gross domestic product of the United Kingdom and Europe, but at least 50% of the headaches of Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator of this untraceable Brexit deal.

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It must be said that this area brings together the three ingredients necessary to compose a pretty political bomb. It is very visible, like those angry trawlers blocking the ports, because its activity is concentrated in a few areas. A good point for the lobbies. It is sensitive because it touches on territorial sovereignty. The clashes are numerous and sometimes armed, see the conflicts in the China Sea, but also, at home, the bickering between Spanish and Irish sailors. And, finally, it is in bad shape, because overfishing and climate change are reducing catches and fishing grounds, pushing species ever further north.

Fragile balance

More than 60% of the tonnage caught in rich British territorial waters is caught by foreign vessels. Each year, quotas are determined by species and distributed by country, according to an old grid that displeases British fishermen, fervent supporters of Brexit. They are asking for a fairer distribution, or even a ban. A disaster for the Belgians and the French, who for centuries have worked a lot in the British zone. The only problem for the United Kingdom: 80% of the fish caught, including by its boats, is exported, mainly to the EU, while the country imports 70% of the seafood it consumes. Fragile balance.

This sector represents a drop of water in terms of the real issues of Brexit. It pays a hundred times less than the UK financial industry and employs less than 12,000 jobs, two-thirds of which are in Scotland. In Europe, only a handful of countries are affected by this problem (the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, etc.). Everyone has an interest in an agreement. Including the fish themselves, whose survival, too, depends on good international law.


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