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A study from the University of Highlands and Islands backed by a Fishing chief shows Britain should copy Norway’s approach in taking back control from January 2021. Norway, which controls its own waters, is believed to land 84 per cent of the fish and shellfish caught in its waters, while for Iceland the figure is 95 per cent.
However, in the UK under the current EU Common Fisheries Policy, more than 70 per cent of the fish and shellfish landed from the UK Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is caught by non-UK vessels.
Talks have been continuing this week in Brussels between the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart Lord Frost but with little movement on the most contentious area, fisheries.
The study, undertaken by Dr Ian Napier of the NAFC Marine Centre UHI based in Scalloway, suggests if the UK followed the Norwegian scenario, it would catch more than twice what it currently does, propelling it from 25th to 13th in the global rankings.
The UK signed a historic fisheries agreement with Norway, the UK’s first since leaving the EU last month.
The agreement signed between Environment Secretary George Eustice and Norwegian Fisheries Minister Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen means the UK and Norway hold annual negotiations on the issues of access to waters and quotas.
Dr Napier referenced an example when in 2018 UK vessels landed just over 700,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish.
But under the Norwegian scenario, this would have been almost 1.7 million tonnes, more than double.
Simon Collins, executive officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, one of the biggest fishing fleets in the UK, said: “This study highlights perfectly the inequitable nature of the CFP as far as UK boats are concerned.
“Far more of the fish in our waters is taken by vessels from other countries than by our own, and nothing rankles more with our members than that.
“Nobody is saying that we would get to the Norwegian scenario overnight, but the figures show that our ambition to become a truly global player in sustainable fishing is entirely realistic.”
Dr Napier’s analysis also reveals Britain ranking for fish landings declined from 6th in the 1950s to 25th by the early 2000s.
He stressed the change reflected both the decline in landings by UK fishing boats and the expansion by other nations of their catches.
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This was partly caused by loss of access in the 1970s to distant water fishing grounds, but also the advent of what would become the EU.
Dr Napier concluded: “These results suggest that if the trajectory of the UK fishing industry over the last four decades would have been very different if the UK fleet had had exclusive (or even preferential) access to the fish and shellfish resources of the UK EEZ, something enjoyed by the fishing industries of countries like Faroe, Iceland and Norway.
“The implications of this for the economies of many coastal and fisheries-dependent communities are obvious.”
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