Renewed fishing rights yet to be proven a success
A decade ago, it would have seemed incomprehensible that fisheries could form such a core part of British foreign policy objectives and define our future relationship with not only the EU, but set a precedent for how the UK would negotiate and form trade partnerships with our other international partners, including the Commonwealth.
Whilst the many intricacies of the withdrawal agreement are still yet to manifest themselves. The Northern Ireland protocol has left the supermarkets in Belfast looking as if they are indeed under siege. The NI protocol is itself the subject of intense criticism from Unionists, whether Unionist politicians care to admit this, due to its clear deviation from the rest of the United Kingdom in order to align it closer with Ireland. Fisheries is an area that so far has provided potential to maintain Northern Ireland's economic advantage of the Union over the Republic of Ireland, with the increase of British fishing being at the expense of EU member states, of which the Irish Republic is certainly taking a hit. The Irish Government’s Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine published a report on the 13th of January highlighting that by the end of the transition period for fisheries in 2026 Ireland would have lost around 15% of its pre-Brexit fishing reserves.
This would be a win for Northern Ireland fishing. Where the fresh food is gone, maybe the Northern Irish can take solace in the increase of fish they will be able to catch. Maybe this is the Norway style deal that the DUP were ‘open to’ in 2018; doing weekly shops in the EU like Norwegians in Sweden and eating a sickly amount of mackerel. However, this ‘best of both worlds’ utopia promised by liberal politicians in Northern Ireland, something Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong was confident enough to say on Nolan Live in 2019- 11 months before Alliance went to Dublin to beg that the ‘NI Protocol must be implemented in full’, may be at risk of failing to come to fruition. The Alliance party will be looking with great interest, no doubt, at the growing frustration of many UK based fisheries in the problems they are experiencing getting fresh produce into the EU. Scottish fishermen held protests in Whitehall yesterday (18th Jan) over the losses they are suffering due to increased issues exporting products to the EU, and the drop in prices for their product they say is the result of the new bureaucracy. The Herald has reported that some ‘Scottish fishermen have taken to landing their catch in Denmark’, and insisted against the issues as ‘teething problems’ as said by FCDO sec Dominic Raab. The talk by the government is of temporary compensation to the industry, confirming their commitment to the idea these issues will not be permanent.
As the Scottish were protesting, news came from Ireland that ‘five more Irish ports to allow Northern Ireland fishing vessels to land from next month’, ports specifically for the landing of ‘vessels of third-party origin’ i.e. British vessels. It's this new status which means British fishers need to pass Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) legislation and North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) requirements to get their goods into the EU. This development doesn’t end the red tape, yet there could be a logistical efficacy having British vessels land and complete the paperwork in an EU member state. These specialist ports in Ireland could speed up the process of having British fish stocks get into the EU. These ports could become the hubs where the EU buys British stock, before it is taken to the continent by an Irish vessel. The fishing industry seems ignorant to think red tape isn’t the cost of the increase of fishing rights, yet there are certainly possibilities to British fishing to grow from Brexit - albeit a new system of trade is still being established.
Ultimately the new EU deal has not been an instant success for British fishing. The increase in quotas is five years away, and the serious inefficiencies are making current practise unprofitable. The possibility of the Irish third-party ports becoming the center UK-EU fishing trade could become a solution to the current inefficiencies. One can only wonder if Northern Ireland could have had a better protocol deal- had the threat of violent nationalists not been taken into account, ANPR cameras at the border could have been a more efficient implementation way to monitor transfer of goods between the EU single market and UK market than the Irish sea border. The prospect of the Irish acting as a neo Hong middleman in British to EU fishing is a result of the last minute nature the new regulations were introduced. Time will tell if these issues are ‘teething issues’ or a new permanent shift in the balance of trade.