White paper sets out plans for new management regime

The UK government is proposing to impose charges on fishermen to contribute towards the cost of fisheries management after Brexit, reports Tim Oliver

This is one of a number of controversial ideas in the fisheries white paper it published last week, in which it set out its thinking on a new post-Brexit fisheries management regime.

Other ideas are to impose charges on over-quota fish landed under the discards ban, to end the under-10m/over-10m fleet division and redefine ‘low-impact’ inshore boats, and to look at effort control as an alternative management measure for some smaller vessels.

It is not clear from the white paper which of the plans it sets out will apply throughout the UK, and which only to England. The powers the devolved administrations will exercise in the post-Brexit management regime are unclear.

On charges, the white paper says it will use the fisheries bill to ensure the MMO in England ‘has the same powers as elsewhere in the UK to recover their costs for fisheries management’. Cost recovery will also ‘encourage behaviour change in the industry and a responsible approach to the management of a public asset’.

“Our future vision is that industry should take a greater, shared responsibility for sustainably managing fisheries, while making a greater contribution towards the costs.

“This can include, for example, work to develop new management practices and contributing to fisheries science, being part of the delegation in the negotiations, being more actively engaged in fisheries management decisions, and co-designing future policy.

“We are examining cases where other countries have pursued this partnership approach, including through putting a value on fishing opportunities to incentivise sustainable management.”

The government is committed to acquiring extra quota for the UK industry by ending current relative stability quota shares. But existing UK quota will continue to be allocated through the FQA system, and any quota reallocation will have to come from the extra post-Brexit quota. “We do not intend to change the method for allocating existing quota,” says the white paper.

It says fish, like wider marine assets, are a public resource, and therefore the rights to catch them are a public asset.

DEFRA will work with POs ‘to consider how we can build upon their strengths and identify potential new roles in fisheries management’.

Quota reallocation

DEFRA intends to discuss with the devolved administrations and stakeholders how any additional quota the UK may acquire after Brexit could be allocated. Zonal attachment is one method that might be used. A new methodology will be in place in time for the allocation of any additional opportunities agreed from December 2020 onwards.

“We will learn from best practice in other fisheries nations, such as Iceland and New Zealand, where the commercial fishing industry and the recreational sector work in closer partnership with government, while making a greater financial contribution.”

A quota ‘reserve’ will be considered in England, using additional quota acquired after Brexit. It will be allocated by the MMO in accordance with the new criteria, which will be discussed with industry and stakeholders.

Some early thoughts on reallocation include:

  • Retaining some fishing opportunities to incentivise the reduction of discards
  • Raising revenue from the new opportunity to support fisheries science, particularly the stock surveys that underpin annual TAC negotiations
  • Auctioning or tendering, taking into account the wider potential benefits, including those which stand to be delivered by applicant POs’ plans for sustainable fisheries
  • Considering whether some fishing opportunities should be reserved for the recreational angling sector. DEFRA will look at how to further integrate recreational angling into fishery management governance and decisions.

Economic link conditions that ensure UK-registered vessels – including foreign-owned vessels – fishing for UK quota produce genuine economic benefits for UK coastal communities will be reviewed. The aim is to ensure that UK communities derive maximum benefit from UK quota.

English inshore fleet

DEFRA and the MMO will review how the English inshore fleet is managed. Much of the fleet is relatively low-impact. “Instead of the current under-10m category, we will consider a variety of potential options, including limits to engine power and restrictions on where such vessels can fish.

“This approach, supported by vessel monitoring and electronic catch-reporting, could allow us to provide increased fishing opportunities, or lighter regulation, for those involved in low-impact fishing activity. At the same time, it would be necessary to monitor the potential cumulative impact of medium-impact vessels.”

A targeted scientific trial using an effort-based (days-at-sea) regime in place of a quota regime for some low-impact inshore fisheries will be considered. ‘Robust’ vessel monitoring systems and catch-reporting would have to be in place before any trial could begin.

If this is successful, further selective effort-based trials or alternative hybrid models will be ‘carefully considered’ in other parts of the demersal fleet.

DEFRA says it aims to manage fisheries – including recreational fishing – and the wider marine environment ‘as a shared resource, a public asset held in stewardship for the benefit of all’.

Preventing discarding

“The UK government remains fully committed to ending the wasteful discarding of fish, and wants to work with the industry to address this issue,” says the white paper.

To deter catching fish in excess of quota, or discarding the fish caught, and to try to avoid ‘choking’ of vessels or POs, a charge related to the market value of the over-quota fish landed could be considered (with an allowance for handling costs).

“This flexibility will be particularly important in mixed fisheries where it is very difficult to entirely avoid by-catch, and traditional enforcement methods such as quota penalties and prosecution might not always be appropriate.” Such landings would be covered by some of the quota in the proposed quota reserve.

This proposal would provide an incentive to avoid species where quota is tight, because fish subject to a charge would have no value to the fishermen who landed them. But it would provide a mechanism by which they could land the fish, and thus avoid vessels being tied up because of choke species.

DEFRA will consider whether income generated from the charge could be used to help develop measures to encourage further ‘behavioural change’.

Other possible measures to reduce discards include:

  • REM on vessels – not only in the UK fleet, but also on other vessels accessing UK waters – to promote compliance and improve data-gathering
  • Promoting selective gears and avoiding high-risk areas – eg real-time closures
  • In England, further exemptions for high survivability, in addition to those currently allowed under the EU landing obligation
  • In England, removal of certain stocks from quota limits, and using alternative management measures
  • If supported by the science, removing the requirement to land under-size fish of stocks that have little or no value, subject to appropriate control and enforcement and full documentation of the catches, which would be set against quota.

A joint working party with industry and other interests will be established to help develop the detail of how the schemes could work in practice.

Western waters

DEFRA and the MMO will work with scientists, stakeholders and industry to develop sustainable management measures for non-quota stocks in Western Waters. This will include the possible use of catch limits and technical measures, in place of the existing effort regime, for certain shellfisheries.

The outcome could be a combination of new multi-species and stock-specific management plans, backed up by appropriate control and enforcement. This might include the use of vessel monitoring systems and cameras. The issues will be discussed with the devolved administrations.

Technical regulations

Under the implementation period, the existing body of EU regulations will continue to apply until December 2020.

In time, this body of law will be replaced with domestic legislation. In fisheries, this will encompass about 100 legislative instruments, covering issues such as gear types, mesh sizes, minimum landing sizes and other technical standards.

The fisheries bill will enable these laws to be changed quickly, because the marine environment is dynamic and rapid decisions are required.

Devolved administrations

The decision-making power of each of the devolved administrations is expected to increase. The government is also working with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man administrations to develop new fisheries management agreements.

Marine environment

The government will retain EU regulations to manage the impacts of fishing on the marine environment. It also wants UK authorities to be able to decide what measures are needed to protect habitats and species throughout UK waters. This will enable the government to deliver its commitment to a network of MPAs.

Fisheries funding

The government will consider ‘whether and how’ to replace the EMFF. “Any funding would need to be consistent with the thrust of our new approach to fisheries management.” Any new scheme would have to be compatible with state aid rules, the functioning of the UK internal market, and the WTO ambition ‘to end fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing’.


Robust control systems will need to be in place to protect UK waters. The Joint Maritime Operations Co-ordination Centre (JMOCC) was established in October 2017, with 12 main partners including the MMO, Royal Navy, Border Force, Marine Scotland, IFCAs, MCA, National Crime Agency and National Maritime Information Centre.



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