Share this article: Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Erika Szyszczak4 December 2020

Professor Erika Szyszczak is Fellow of the UKTPO.

The preoccupation in the final stages of the Brexit talks with an industry that contributes 0.12% to GDP and employs less than 0.1% of the UK workforce baffles commentators. Control over “our” fishing waters owes more to maintaining the British psyche rather than economic arguments.  Amidst fears that the traditional UK fish and chip supper could be at risk without a fisheries deal with the EU, the UK has put in place a series of Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with four Northern fishing nations; Greenland, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

The MoU set out general principles and processes and therefore do not set out the allocation of fishing quotas. They will come into effect on 1 January 2021 and will set the scene for a future Northern fisheries policy.

Each of these countries has an interest in supplying fresh fish, especially good quality shell fish to the UK and the EU. But given the small population and industrial base of each country, reliance is also placed on supplying fish for processing, even to countries outside of the EU, such as Ukraine and China.  A proportion of the traded fish products to the UK are semi-finished fish products, which play a role in economic value-creation and employment, through the further processing and preparation of the products by UK companies. Think Fish Fingers!

The fishing industry is therefore one of the main pillars of each of the Northern countries’ economy and the future shape of fishing will hinge on how seriously these MoU are used.  The relationship the UK is forging with these countries indicates the kind of fishing arrangements it would want to have with the EU.

The UK has passed The Fisheries Act 2020, taking back control over access to UK coastal waters and implementing new obligations towards sustainability of fishing stocks and commitments to alleviating the impact of climate change. Thus, the challenge now is to build trading and cooperation relationships with adjacent fishing nations.

The Faroe Islands, Norway and Iceland have already signed a continuity trade deal with the UK. A trade deal with Greenland is more complicated because Greenland is classified by the EU as an Overseas Country and Territory, but whilst enjoying greater access to EU funding and the Internal Market as a result of Protocol 34 TEU.


1. The treatment on import into the Union of products subject to the common organisation of the market in fishery products, originating in Greenland, shall, while complying with the mechanisms of the internal market organisation, involve exemption from customs duties and charges having equivalent effect and the absence of quantitative restrictions or measures having equivalent effect if the possibilities for access to Greenland fishing zones granted to the Union pursuant to an agreement between the Union and the authority responsible for Greenland are satisfactory to the Union.

2. All measures relating to the import arrangements for such products, including those relating to the adoption of such measures, shall be adopted in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 43 of the Treaty establishing the European Union.

Greenland is not entirely independent and Denmark continues to be responsible for a number of policies, which in turn, must be aligned with EU policies.

These Memoranda have mistakenly be heralded as “Fishing Deals . A Memorandum of Understanding is not a legally binding deal. MoU are used in international negotiations between two or more parties indicating the willingness of the parties to move towards a legal document.  It is the starting point for negotiations, defining the scope and purpose of future the talks. Under international law, the UN Law of the Sea, the UK is under an obligation to negotiate fishing access rights and conservation measures with neighbouring countries.

The purpose of the Memoranda on fishing is to allow the UK and the signatory countries to determine access to their fishing waters, alongside developing sustainable fishing for the future.

The Faroes islands and Norway have agreed Framework Agreements on Fisheries with the UK, and these are currently laid before Parliament. These Agreements set out that (a) fishing quotas will be negotiated annually; and (b) they will be based on the principle of zonal attachment. These are the principles that the UK is trying to negotiate with the EU and are the barrier to obtaining a post-transition trade deal.

Greenland is a step behind and the MoU serves as an example of how the future Northern fisheries policy will play out. A Fisheries Dialogue will be the medium through which the Participants of each nation will discuss, share information, and cooperate on fisheries and marine issues, at a level of information exchange. Alongside scientific experts, private enterprise will also be involved in the dialogue.  Items for the agenda are set out in a non-exhaustive list:

a. Fisheries management, including monitoring, control, and enforcement;

b. Capture fisheries, aquaculture, and processing (including, enhancing innovation; minimising waste; the traceability and marketing of fisheries products; and the optimisation of value, distribution, and transport);

c. Broader marine conservation, restoration, and enhancement and their implications for the Participants’ efforts to pursue sustainable fisheries;

d. Facilitating and enhancing cooperation between the Participants’ respective private sectors in relation to the issues described above in sub-paragraph b;

e. Matters addressed within relevant fisheries-related international fora, including possibilities for mutual support within such fora (including consultations on shared stocks between coastal States in the North-East Atlantic);

f. Scientific and academic knowledge, practices, and experiences, including facilitating and enhancing cooperation between scientists, research institutes, and academic bodies.

The importance of future co-operation with Greenland, including trade deals, is acknowledged in the UK by the creation of an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Greenland (APPG Greenland) on 13 November 2020. Co-incidentally the Protocol to the EU-Greenland Sustainable fisheries partnership agreement is up for renewal on 31 December 2020.

These MoU indicate a new alignment of the significant fishing countries and the United Kingdom which will affect the EU, indicating a political shift in the geo-economics of the cold fishing waters of the north.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the University of Sussex or UK Trade Policy Observatory.

Republishing guidelines:
The UK Trade Policy Observatory believes in the free flow of information and encourages readers to cite our materials, providing due acknowledgement. For online use, this should be a link to the original resource on our website. We do not publish under a Creative Commons license. This means you CANNOT republish our articles online or in print for free.


  • John Parker says:

    i do not understand why we are even discussing fish as they are in our territorial waters and are therefore legally ours.

  • Looking at the under1% GDP fisheries, ignored the fact that France, Spain and Holland are selling British free fish, trawled in British water and sold to the EU27 nations, and the UK4 nations.?
    As the EUROPEAN 27 Nations are unable to trawl fish in own waters, this shows the need for a cut free fish, from British waters.
    By 2023, the UK will be supplying, selling the EU27 nations British fish, sea food, no longer being fleeced by AN despotic rukes. UK4 are an independent, coastal and sovereign group of 4, possibly 5 nations, under international law, that cancels out all, any previous clutching on to 50 year ancient private buys, sells of con mens fishing rights in British waters.
    Our GDP will be over 6% in 5 years. Once the French over’eers, are returned to their own depleted waters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *