Still some rough seas to nav­i­gate

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - NEWS -

The an­nual bat­tle over EU fish­ing “op­por­tu­ni­ties”, cul­mi­nat­ing in the December Fish­eries Coun­cil in Brus­sels, is no­to­ri­ously fraught.

EU fish­eries min­is­ters must balance the com­pet­ing de­mands of in­dus­try, sci­en­tists and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, while also meet­ing po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tives dic­tated by cir­cum­stances back home.

But this year’s ne­go­ti­a­tions have an ex­tra di­men­sion – it is the last end-of-year bun fight be­fore Brexit.

In­dus­try chiefs and politi­cians alike will be look­ing to see how well UK Fish­ing Min­is­ter Ge­orge Eus­tace and his team fare against coun­ter­parts from the rest of Europe, amid the back­ground of Bri­tain’s EU di­vorce set­tle­ment.

Sources close to last year’s December Fish­eries Coun­cil said the mood in the room was de­cid­edly frosty as other EU na­tions and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion took a hard line on any is­sues af­fect­ing the UK.

With Brexit near­ing, it is hard to imag­ine it will be any bet­ter this year. In all like­li­hood, it will be worse.

Tran­si­tion ar­range­ments also tie the UK to the much-de­spised Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy (CFP) un­til December 2010, mean­ing Scot­land’s fish­ing fleet will still be op­er­at­ing un­der EU rules well beyond Brexit.

The UK will tech­ni­cally not have a place at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble dur­ing quota ne­go­ti­a­tions in late 2019, but it will still be bound by the CFP and be con­sulted on quo­tas af­fect­ing its wa­ters.

All the while, in­dus­try lead­ers will be watch­ing from the side­lines to make sure fish­ing is never again used as a bar­ter­ing chip.

They have al­ready warned that sac­ri­fic­ing UK fish­ing in­ter­ests in a trade deal would be seen as an­other “be­trayal” akin to Ted Heath’s “sell-out” of fish­eries in the run-up to Bri­tain join­ing the old Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity in 1973.

Hopes are high that Scot­land’s fish­ing fleet is fac­ing a brighter fu­ture as it sails pur­pose­fully to­wards a new dawn.

Chal­lenges such as the dis­card ban are gen­er­ally seen as EU-im­posed in­con­ve­niences which must be en­dured along the jour­ney to Brexit.

Quit­ting the EU can de­liver a fairer share of the fish in Scot­land’s own wa­ters, re­bal­ance the ac­cess rules in this coun­try’s favour and free the fleet from the shack­les of the CFP, or so the the­ory goes.

Brexit is cer­tainly an ideal op­por­tu­nity to wipe the slate clean af­ter decades of fish­eries gov­er­nance from Brus­sels, much of which can at best be de­scribed as well-in­ten­tioned but ill-con­ceived.

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