In data: what are Britain’s fisheries gaining from Brexit?

Bigger quotas, but greater market risk—here’s what our new relationship means for the seafood industry
February 26, 2021

Britain has finally said “so along, and thanks for all the fish” to the European Union.

For many fisheries, the UK’s allotted EU quota (or Total Allowable Catch) was long a source of grievance over our bloc membership. As Boris Johnson brokered our new trading agreement in December, he went to the wire over fish: there was much trumpeting of a 25 per cent increase in quotas over five years. When this is broken down—highlighted here are changes for important species within particular quota zones—it seems like catches really are set to be appreciably bigger by 2026. So why all the news about stilled boats, raging protests and rotting catches?

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* “Total value” is here defined to cover all landings by UK-flagged vessels both in the UK and abroad, as supplied by the seafood industry’s public body, Seafish
† Total and European share of exports both taken from separate official figures—published as “UK Sea Fisheries Statistics, 2018,” where treatment of overseas landings may differ
** Changes in quota here refer to specific zones, as shown in circles above; quota changes per fish stock vary depending on zone

…Well, there is no use catching more fish if you’ve got nowhere to sell it. An awful lot of UK exports—around 68 per cent—has long headed for the EU, rising to as high as 98 per cent for some species, like mussels. This valuable market is currently at risk not only from potentially temporary border delays, but also new checks, which may not be easy to negotiate away. Already EU bans on certain shellfish imports from third countries are spelling ruin for some. The question hanging over fisheries now is: do increased quotas compensate for the risk to our biggest market? The answer is not clear.

Source for quotas: “Council Regulation (EU) 2020/123” published by the Official Journal of the European Union; UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement