INDEPENDENCE would be “even more complicated” than Brexit for Scotland’s fisheries, an expert has said.

Dr Bryce Stewart, a marine ecologist and fisheries biologist at the University of York, said it could become “quite a heated issue” in areas such as Peterhead and Fraserburgh.

He said it would be “incredibly difficult” to divide fisheries between Scotland and England. The expert said there would need to be a three-way negotiation between Scotland, England and the EU, adding: “Three’s a crowd – it’s going to get interesting.”

Speaking to The Herald, he said: “I think it would be really complicated. I’ve spoken to people involved in UK fisheries management in the Government about this and they’re pretty worried about it.”

Dr Stewart has previously been involved in assessing the impact of Brexit on UK fisheries and the marine environment. He said independence would be “complicated for the relationship between Scotland and the other countries currently in the UK, particularly England, because they share so many fish stocks and fisheries”.

Fishing is at least 10 times more important to Scotland than England, Dr Stewart said. It is also crucial for many coastal towns. He explained: “If, for example, Scotland becomes independent and then they move back into the EU, that would mean moving back into the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which is a whole different legal framework, and that would have to be sorted out.

“It’s not just access to waters; it’s how the quotas are divided up, and you’re talking about a lot of fish stocks that are quite mobile, so they’re actually straddling between the Scottish and English borders, and the Northern Irish border, for example. So there would be all of that to untangle after we’ve just gone through the fairly painful process of leaving the EU.

“And we saw how prominent fisheries became in those negotiations, even though it’s worth such a small amount of the economy to the UK overall, 0.12 per cent – but for Scotland it’s proportionally worth much more.


“About 60 per cent of all the fisheries landings in the UK come from Scotland, but when you think about the fact there’s only five million people in Scotland and about 60 million in England, it’s way more important to the Scottish economy than it is obviously here [in England].

“So you can imagine that the Scottish Government would really be pushing for as much as it could get, but that would just get incredibly complicated as to how we would move forwards.”

Dr Stewart said that if an independent Scotland joined the EU, it would have to join the CFP.

However, “because there’s a lot of fish in Scottish waters, that would give them a bit of leverage, but at the same time when you rejoin the CFP, you are just thrown in the mix with everyone else”.

“You’re one country at the table. They would go back, I imagine, to the sort of catch share arrangement that there was before, minus the English bit, whatever that was worked out to be. We’ve already seen from the EU their resistance to change. They really stuck to their guns on that during the negotiations. The ultimate [fisheries] deal that was done was much closer to where the EU started than to where the UK wanted to go.

“Scotland would be up against the same thing, I think, even though, yes, it probably holds some of the best fishing grounds in Europe. But they are still only one country at the table, so they would have a hard time – I’m not saying they couldn’t have any influence, but it wouldn’t be easy.”


Dr Stewart said the post-Brexit fisheries deal secured by the UK Government “is probably about as good as they could have got”.

He said: “The other complication, of course, is within the Scottish fishing industry it’s very diverse. You have everything from a small, 20ft boat going out, catching a few crabs and lobsters, and mostly – until recently – sending most of that catch to Europe.

“And then you have the extremely large pelagic fishing vessels fishing for mackerel and herring, for example.

“Now as things stand, those large pelagic vessels are the ones who have done reasonably well out of Brexit.”

However, for the smaller scale operators, such as those catching scallops, crabs and lobsters, trading with the EU “has become extremely difficult in comparison to how it was, and more expensive”. Some businesses have collapsed.

Dr Stewart said the larger companies are wealthier and more likely to have political influence. He said: “I know a number of fishermen now who would definitely want to rejoin the EU just for the trade, just to make trading easier and cheaper. But there would definitely be divisions.”

Elsewhere, he said independence and its impact on fisheries could become “quite a heated issue” in key fishing areas such as Peterhead and Fraserburgh, adding: “I think you would find a lot of division even between the fish catchers and the fish producers and processors and distributors, the ones who were having to deal with all the extra paperwork and costs and things like that.”

Dr Stewart said it would be “incredibly difficult” to divide fisheries between Scotland and England, explaining: “Fish are dynamic. They’re moving all the time and particularly between, say, the borders of two countries.”

Negotiations could last for years, the expert said, although an interim arrangement could be put in place.

However, Dr Stewart said he thought Scotland would be “welcomed back” to the EU. Asked if independence would be more complicated than Brexit, he said: “For fisheries, yes I think so.”