Members' Research Service By / April 2, 2022

Fishing quota changes after Brexit

Brexit has reshaped fisheries relations in the North-east Atlantic on an unprecedented scale, with far-reaching consequences for the fishing sector in the region and beyond.

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Written by Irina Popescu and Frederik Scholaert.

Brexit has reshaped fisheries relations in the North-east Atlantic on an unprecedented scale, with far-reaching consequences for the fishing sector in the region and beyond. This situation is highlighted in the European Parliament’s resolution on the future of fisheries in the Channel, North Sea, Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean in the light of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU. After Brexit, most of the fish stocks in the region, managed for decades under EU rules, have become shared stocks jointly managed with the UK. Access for EU vessels to UK waters is now subject to licences delivered by UK authorities. Difficulties and delays were experienced however in licencing EU vessels to fish in the 6‑12 mile UK territorial waters and in the waters of Jersey and Guernsey in 2021. Access for EU vessels to UK waters is maintained for an adjustment period lasting until 30 June 2026, but the conditions after this date remain uncertain. More restrictive rules in the UK and the Falkland Islands are expected to affect UK-flagged vessels owned by EU fishing companies. More generally, relations between coastal states in the region have become less predictable, as seen in the unilateral decisions of Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands to increase their mackerel quotas in 2021, for example.

One of the most significant changes, fiercely contested until the final hours of the Brexit negotiations, concerns the transfer of EU fishing quotas to the UK. The total transfer is considered to represent 25 % of the value of the EU landings from UK waters. The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) gradually reduces the EU fishing opportunities for 55 shared stocks from 2021 to 2025, specifying how the EU and UK shares change each year for each stock. Most of the quota transfer occurs in 2021 (60 %), with the remainder phased-in over the following years, to reach 70 % in 2022, 80 % in 2023, 92 % in 2024 and 100 % in 2025. For 2021, the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) estimated the quota reduction due to the TCA at 73 697 tonnes.

An EPRS analysis focused on the impact of the TCA changes on 16 of the most affected stocks, which together represented a quota transfer of 62 211 tonnes in 2021 (around 84 % of the total amount calculated by the STECF), with a value estimated at €103 million.[1]

The quota reduction mainly affects France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Spain and Belgium. Sweden, Poland, Portugal, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are affected to a lesser extent. France, Ireland and the Netherlands take the brunt of the 2021 transfer by value for the analysed stocks.

volume of the Brexit quota transfert (tonnes)
value of the Brexit quota transfert (€ millions)

Western mackerel is by far the stock with the highest Brexit transfer (almost 30 % of the value of the analysed stocks), and as such it is an illustrative example. The EU share decreased from 41.68 % in 2020 (pre-Brexit) to 35.15 % in 2021 (post-Brexit), leading to a transfer of 24 021 tonnes, with a value estimated at €30.08 million. More than half of this amount is provided by Ireland, with the Netherlands, Germany and France sharing most of the remainder. In practice, the effect of the Brexit transfer due to the TCA cumulates with the effect of the change in total allowable catches (TAC) from 2020 to 2021, resulting in a net quota change. The TAC trend has a major impact on the net quota change: if the TAC decreases, as was the case for Western mackerel in 2021, the impact of the quota reduction from the Brexit transfer is amplified, from 24 021 tonnes to 33 812 for the EU total, and accordingly for each Member State (shown below in light shades).

Quota changes for the EU and the UK, and by Member State (tonnes)

An updated EPRS analysis of the Brexit quota transfer in 2022 is currently in progress.


[1] The stocks covered by the EPRS analysis are Mackerel (Western), Herring (North Sea), Blue whiting (Northern), Norway pout (North Sea), Mackerel (North Sea), Sole (North Sea), Norway lobster (zone 7), Anglerfish (zone 7), Hake (Western), Saithe (North Sea), Anglerfish (North Sea), Anglerfish (West of Scotland), Pollack (zone 7), Megrims (zone 7), Cod (North Sea) and Hake (North Sea). The net quota change is the difference between a Member State’s quotas for a given stock for two successive years. We used the initial fishing opportunities for 2020 and 2021, as indicated in Regulations 2020/123 and 2021/1239. The Brexit transfer for a Member State in a given year is calculated by applying the EU share reduction according to the TCA to the quota from the previous year. EU and UK quota shares are from the EU-UK TCA, Annexes 35 and 36. To neutralise unusual pandemic effects, the value is based on 2019 prices from the European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA). National sources have been used for German and Irish prices (unavailable in EUMOFA).

Read this briefing on Post-Brexit fishing quota changes: 2021  on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.


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