Legal battle could go to EU court.

According to a report in The Guardian last week, officials in Copenhagen have built a legal case that claims Danish fishermen have a historic right to fish in seas around the UK dating back to the 1400s.

The case could potentially go to the Court of Justice in The Hague, but officials say they hope it does not come to that. They say 40% of Denmark’s annual catch is from waters within the UK’s 200-mile EEZ, and that some of Denmark’s coastal communities are almost entirely economically dependent on access to UK waters.

Denmark is one of eight EU member states that have joined forces to fight for continued access to UK waters and fish through the European Fisheries Alliance (EUFA). The others are Spain, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Poland (Fishing News, 6 April, ‘EU gangs up to hit UK fisheries Brexit’).

They claim loss of access would threaten about 500 vessels and lead to the loss of 6,000 full-time jobs, and have the support of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee (Pêche).

They are also seeking to block UK access to the EU market unless they secure fishing rights in what will be the UK 200-mile EEZ after Brexit. The UK industry strongly opposes any linkage of access to fish with access to markets, and says there is no precedent for this anywhere else.

Denmark’s foreign affairs minister, Anders Samuelsen, said the issue was crucial to many communities in Denmark, and that they would be making their case through the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

He said: “Clearly, this is very important for many fishing communities, especially along the Jutland coast, and we all put our full support behind the EU’s negotiators to find the best way forward.”

The Danes will point to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which tells states to respect the traditional fishing rights of adjacent countries within sovereign waters.

But Fishing for Leave challenged the Danish claims and also pointed to UNCLOS as the guardian of the UK’s rights to control over its own EEZ (see below).

Niels Wichmann, chief executive of the Danish fishermen’s association, which holds a place on the Danish ministry of food’s Brexit taskforce, was quoted as saying Britain’s claim of getting back its waters was ‘a nonsense because you never had them – maybe for oil or gas but not for fish’.

He also said the EU should threaten to block the sale of British fish on the continent unless the UK sticks to the status quo on access and quota shares, a position shared by the European parliament’s fisheries committee.

Gerard van Balsfoort, the chair of EUFA, said he had sought reassurance at a meeting last week with David Jones, a Brexit minister, but had concluded after his discussion that the UK was set on tearing up the old agreements. “He didn’t want to reassure me. I was a bit shocked,” he told The Guardian.

He feared that things would get ‘really confrontational’ if the UK insisted on restricting access and renegotiating quota shares and could lead to ‘many years of non-collaboration’ that would ultimately damage fish stocks.

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