Brexit spells big trouble for the Welsh fishing industry

Date posted: 5 August 2018

As with the rest of the UK, the main issues in Wales are access to water, sharing of quota and tariffs. But, unlike the rest of the UK, the impact of Brexit on trade flows could be dramatic, as MCS Head of Conservation in Wales, Gill Bell, explains.

Brexit will have a large effect on Welsh fisheries. A recent review has concluded that the Welsh fishing fleet may actually be a net loser. At this stage, however, it is hard to predict with accuracy how this will affect the number and composition of the country’s fishing fleet and the knock-on effects to ports, producers, businesses and local communities.

Lobster pot
© Richard McCall

The risks arise from the specific structure of the Welsh fish industry. Welsh fishers currently have less than 1% of the total UK fishing fleet quota and only 0.02% of the EU fisheries quota. The current Welsh fishing fleet has 451 registered vessels, 419 (90%) of which are under 10 metres, which means they mostly stay within the inshore area (0-6 nm). The majority of these are made up of static gear fishers, using pots and traps, most of whom do not fish for species which have been allocated a quota (such as shellfish). The remaining 32 vessels are over 10m and mainly catch quota species. A transition to being outside of the EU could have very serious consequences, given that in 2017 90% of what was caught (some £38.8m) was sold directly to EU markets. The UK, in fact, currently has little appetite for Welsh fishing produce, so the industry is dependent upon selling abroad.

As well as changes brought about by Brexit, there is also Welsh legislation which must be considered. The Welsh Government has recently had it’s powers extended to manage the ‘Welsh Zone’ in line with the devolution agreements of Scotland and Northern Ireland. This includes management of UK waters out to the median point between Ireland and Wales, increasing Welsh management responsibilities for some fishing areas and will require Wales to be more involved in Brexit negotiations.

The Wellbeing for Future Generations Act and the Environment (Wales) Act, which requires Wales to be ‘Globally Responsible’ and create a ‘Resilient’ Wales’, as well as ‘maintain and enhance biodiversity’ and ‘promote the resilience of ecosystems’, will need to be included in any Welsh post-Brexit decisions on the management of its fisheries and marine environment. But what will happen in Wales with possible greater access to new fishing areas and quota when the UK claims its Exclusive Economic Zone? There appears to be lots of discussions taking place amongst fishers as to what to do. So far, the Welsh Government has been concentrating on getting a ‘fair share of fishing opportunities in the future’. There have already been calls, from fishers, to receive support for this expansion, as there is a lack of capacity to exploit the possibly expanding fisheries within the current fleet. To do this would require new vessels and practices, away from the less damaging static fisheries.

Given the current, very limited, capacity and resources for effective fisheries management in Wales, and the unfavourable condition of many Welsh Marine Protected Areas, it would be preferable to work on ways to support fishing communities, such as diversification, rather than race to exploit potential new fishing opportunities. Any suggestion of expansion should only be considered in the context of ecosystem based, sustainably managed fisheries to allow for the recovery of degraded habitats and species. Wales should take stock, quite literally, of what it has and what it could have, if fisheries were allowed to recover. Like the shift in thinking from ‘agriculture’ to ‘land management’, there should be a shift from ‘fisheries management’ to ‘marine management’. Hopefully Brexit will help us get there.

Overfishing and damaging fishing practices have reduced many fish stocks and harmed the seabed, threatening marine wildlife and coastal communities.

The UK government has opened a public consultation asking how we think they should manage our fisheries after Brexit through a new Fisheries Bill.


To have your say on the consultation, click the image. It will take 1 minute.

This article was written by Gill Bell, Head of conservation Wales (MCS), for our Spring 2018 membership magazine ‘Marine Conservation’. If you’d like to receive our fantastic quarterly magazine straight to your door, you can become a member from as little as £3.50 per month.

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