By Griffin Carpenter

IT WAS no surprise the “Brexit flotilla” that led to the clash on the Thames between Ukip leader Nigel Farage and singer-activist Bob Geldof just before the Brexit vote was organised by a group of Scottish skippers.

After all, Scotland has eight per cent of Britain’s people but accounts for three-fifths of its fishing catch. Moreover, more than nine out of 10 Scottish fishers want to leave the EU.

Fishers take up this position, roughly, because they think the way they get access to waters and how quotas are divided is unfair. They feel and a view that decisions about fisheries are being made remotely without the interests of Scottish fishers at heart.

More broadly, they sense fisheries have been in decline over the period of EU management, a trend most visually obvious by the declining number of people and fishing vessels in harbours, and that fisheries are a forgotten industry.

An Aberdeen University survey reflected these sentiments, as not only did 92 per cent of fishers indicate that they would vote to leave, but 93 per cent indicated that they thought that leaving the EU would improve the industry’s fortunes. On fishing quotas, 77 per cent of respondents thought that the amount of fish they would be allowed to catch would increase outside of the EU (only one per cent thought they would decrease). Only a tiny number of fishers, however, thought leaving the EU would affect their ability to sell their fish in the EU.

Their views are clear. What is not clear, however, is whether leaving the EU will really address many of the underlying issues in fisheries. However, the first truism in fisheries is that there are only so many fish in the sea, and only so many that can be harvested sustainably. The UK taking a greater share of fish quotas by definition means that the rest of the EU must take less – something easier said than done.

The great worry here is that failure to agree on quota shares could lead to overfishing as both sides aim to increase their catch. This continues to be the case with many tumultuous fishing relationships involving non-EU countries like Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway .

Bluntly, there is still overfishing, including of cod, mackerel and haddock. Significant changes to Scottish fisheries are therefore limited by what these stocks can sustain – an important consideration in the shaping of post-Brexit fisheries.

The Common Fisheries Policy has provided a shared management system for decades. If it is ignored, there is a risk of returning to rampant overfishing as nations pursue their own self-interest to over-exploit common resources.

There is also the important issue of trade-offs in negotiations with the EU – between different sectors – but also within fisheries itself. A recent House of Lords report on Brexit and fisheries stressed there would likely be a trade-off between access to waters and access to markets, as was the case when Greenland left the EU, and continues to shape the EU’s current relationship with Norwegian fisheries. This likely trade-off also presents a worrying conflict with the expectation of more quota but no impact on trade.

Many of the economic trends are driving Scottish fisheries towards a concentrated high-capital, low-labour fleet will remain post-Brexit, just as fishing industries outside of the EU and other industries within the UK have experienced.

That is not to say, however, that this restructuring is inevitable. Innovative policy approaches, such as allocating quota to the fishing fleet based on social and environmental criteria so as to incentivise the creation of wider public benefits have not been fully pursued in the UK or abroad.

It is worth noting that several criticised aspects of fisheries management are already national competencies, such as how quotas are distributed by member states within their fleet. News reports about Dutch and Spanish vessels hoovering up UK quota are describing UK-flagged vessels sold to foreign owners under the rules of the UK’s own system for allocating quota.

It is a source of significant confusion, but issues of foreign ownership are a result of national management, as are complaints about the continued concentration of UK quota through market transactions. Regardless of the level of management post-Brexit, a radical rethink in participatory approaches and co-management is needed to create a system of fisheries management that is truly shared.

n Griffin Carpenter, is a senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation based in London.Griffin Carpenter is a Senior Researcher at the New Economics Foundation and is based in London and Copenhagen.