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8 things you should know about Brexit and Norwegian fisheries

Fisheries are one of the most important economic sectors in Norway. While in contrast the sector only has marginal economic significance in the UK, “taking back control of UK waters” is politically a charged topic in the UK. Brexit will affect the economic interaction between Norway, the UK and the EU in catching, managing, raising and selling fish in a number of ways.
Arbeidsliv og offentlig sektor Brexit Konkurranse-, EØS- og statsstøtterett

This article summarises a number of legally pertinent elements that indicate how Brexit could impact Norway’s fisheries sector.

  1. Brexit will give the UK control of its 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone. Currently, as member of the EU and therefore part of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), it shares these waters with other EU Member States. Upon exit from the CFP, the UK will solely be responsible to manage fishing in its EEZ, pursuant to the UN Convention on the law of the sea (UNCLOS). Importantly for Norway, the UK will therefore become a very important player in managing fish stocks in the North Sea.

  2. Regaining control of the EEZ does not necessarily mean that only British vessels will fish there going forward. For example, Norway allows EU (and UK) boats to fish in its EEZ waters, in return for market access as well as the right to fish in EU (and particular) UK EEZs. Going forward, it is to expected that the UK will attempt to trade access to the UK market for access to Norwegian waters going forward. 

  3. Similarly, market access to the EU will be a key element of the UK-EU negotiations, given that the EU is the largest fisheries market in the world, and a net importer of fish.  Currently, there are no tariffs or quotas applicable to UK fish exports to the EU, but this may well change as a result of Brexit. It appears very likely that the EU will attempt to bargain market access against the right to fish in the UK’s EEZ. In the past, the EU has used market access as means to safeguard its own fishing interests, for instance when it banned Faeroese herring from the internal market in order to convince the Faroe Islands to reduce its herring quota. 

  4. Given that the EEA does not cover fisheries, Norway and other EFTA EEA States do not benefit from entirely free trade with the EU. While Norway enjoys free access with regard to a number of white fish species, it is subject to different tariffs for others. For some fish species, such as salmon for example, tariffs are non-existent or low for unprocessed fish, but higher for processed fish, which has led to a Norwegian fish often being exported unprocessed, and being processed in the EU, most notably in Scotland, Denmark and Poland. The outcome of the EU-UK negotiations will determine if processing Norwegian fish in the UK will remain a profitable business model.

  5. Generally speaking, for instance as regards farmed salmon, it would seem that following Brexit the competition between the UK and Norway as regards sales in the EU might intensify – and that the advantage the UK currently enjoys as regards completely free market to EU  access could disappear.

  6. Whatever the outcome of the EU-UK and Norway-UK negotiations (the latter being fraught with even more uncertainty than the former – see also here, Brexit will certainly mean that managing fisheries in European waters, and in the North Sea in particular, will become considerably more complicated going forward as a result of Brexit. At the moment, cooperation between Norway and the EU is based on a bilateral framework agreement from 1981, which provides for a range of technical measures, annual quota arrangements (on North Sea stocks and stocks outside the North Sea), as well as joint management measures. For both sides, this is the most important bilateral agreement. Brexit means that a new, important player as regards fishing in the North Sea is added to the equation, which will inevitably complicate the process.

  7. Fisheries and “taking back control of UK waters” was an important political topic prior to the Brexit referendum. British politicians will be hard pressed to provide their fishermen greater access to (North Sea) stocks. This could well be a “tragedy of the commons” in the making, if all future stakeholders in North Sea fishing cannot agree on a sustainable way to manage stocks. Brexit may thus upset a system that recently has succeeded in making the North Sea cod a sustainable species again – as for example the FT reports.

  8. The British government’s decision to withdraw from the London fisheries convention, which allows vessels from the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of each other’s coastlines, appears to be more of a symbolic act. Most experts agree that the convention was superseded by the UK’s participation in the CFP, i.e. that rights stemming from the London fisheries convention would not be revived after Brexit. In any event, this specific withdrawal (which will also take 2 years), has no material effect on Norway, but underlines the political importance of fisheries in the current British political climate.

Detailed updates and insights on Brexit and in particular its consequences for Norway will be published regularly on this site in the next months.