Brexit agreements on fisheries do not make anyone happy (including the British)

That is a pot of the European Union that contains 5 billion euros. That money is intended to help cushion the economic and social consequences of Brexit in the Member States and sectors most affected.

Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs gave an explanation to the Parliamentary Committee for European Affairs today. “600 million euros has been earmarked for the countries affected by the fishing deal. It is the Dutch commitment to get a very substantial share of this, which is in line with the damage suffered by the Dutch fishermen.”


On December 24, an agreement was reached between the EU and Great Britain at the last minute. Trade deals had to be made now that the British are leaving the EU on January 1.

Negotiations stalled for months and a no-deal scenario was close. The last tricky point where negotiations stalled was fishing.


For a long time, the parties could not agree on how many EU fishermen will still be allowed to fish in British waters after January 1, and under what conditions. Agreement was nevertheless reached at the last minute.

According to the agreement, European fishermen will have access to British waters for at least another 5.5 years. But the catch quotas are going down. They are allowed to catch a quarter less fish than before. Fishermen from Urk, Zeeland, Katwijk and Texel in particular suffer from this. They catch a lot of herring, marckreel, turbot and sole in British waters.

Transition period

In total, some EUR 1.6 billion in fishing rights for the entire European Union will be transferred to the United Kingdom. It concerns a transition period of 5.5 years. After that, it will be renegotiated.

This led to questions from various political parties. The investments made by fishermen cover much longer periods. “What is the cabinet going to do to offer Dutch fishermen more prospects for the future”, Stieneke van der Graaf (ChristenUnie) asked Minister Blok.

Cod Wars

She also had questions about the negotiations that will follow. What if there is no new agreement? “Let’s go back to the Cod Wars,” referring to a conflict over fishing rights between Iceland and the United Kingdom in the mid-20th century.

Blok admitted that the agreement was not good for Dutch fishermen. “I can’t make it more beautiful than it is. But it’s not as bad as it could have been. You have undoubtedly also seen the percentages that were circulating at the start of the Brexit negotiations.”

Catch quota ‘far too low’

British Prime Minister Johnson first wanted to completely deprive EU fishermen of the right to fish in British waters. Fishermen from outside the UK would then have to apply for a license to fish there and comply with UK regulations.

Both the Dutch fishermen and their English competitors do not seem to be happy with the current agreement. The British National Federation of Fisheries Organizations tells Reuters that the sector has been sacrificed by Prime Minister Johnson. He would have made too many concessions to save the trade deal. British fishermen think their catch quotas are far too low.


The Dutch fishing sector also reacted disappointed to the fisheries agreement. “The fishery pays a high price for this deal”, says Pim Visser, director of VisNed, which represents the interests of cutter fishermen.

“Less fish may be caught in the Channel, where Dutch and French fishermen are now both fishing. That will increase tensions,” says Visser.

Gerard van Balsfoort, chairman of the Shipowners’ Association for Sea Fisheries, is also disappointed about the reduced quota. He emphasizes that the future is uncertain, now that negotiations are going on again in 5.5 years. “Entrepreneurs must be able to invest in ships and new fishing techniques, with a long time horizon. But that horizon has now been reduced to 5.5 years, while we have asked for a Brexit deal for at least 25 years.”

The current rules

At the end of December, the current fishing rights, permits and quota rules will expire.

At the moment, the old rules from before Brexit still apply. One of those rules was created in the 1970s and concerns access to so-called territorial waters. These are parts of the sea that belong to a specific country.

The agreements from the 1970s promised that European fishermen would have access to each other’s territorial waters to fish. On the basis of these agreements, it is also determined annually how much each country may catch of each fish species.

For example, the Dutch catch 80 percent of herring and mackerel in British water and 70 percent of blue whiting is also caught in British waters.


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