Photo: Frans Lemmens
Flemish Minister for Fisheries, Hilde Crevits, responded on Thursday with relief that an agreement was reached between the European Union and the United Kingdom. This will allow Flemish fishermen to continue fishing sole, anglerfish, rays and plaice in British waters for years to come, she confirms. “Still, the impact on the fishing industry will be significant. They now deserve special attention so that fishing in Flanders remains livable, ”it says.
According to Minister Crevits, the trade deal is workable but the fisheries sector is still paying the toll as catch quotas will be reduced significantly in the years to come. “We now have to give full support to the fishing industry to keep it viable in the longer term,” she says. About half of our fishery products come from British waters. The Flemish fishing fleet has 65 vessels and directly and indirectly employs around 2,500 people.
“Full details of the agreement are not yet known, but we have already heard that access to UK waters is guaranteed for a period of 5.5 years. This also includes access to the 6-12 mile zone for ships already operating in this zone today. This 6-12 mile zone is the zone off the UK coast where our fishing is very active today. This zone is particularly important for the continued fishing activities of around 30 smaller vessels, ”says Crevits.
“It is good that a transition period has now been agreed, but a longer transition period would have been better for our fishermen,” he says. “Our goal was originally ten years. Flemish fishermen now have to adapt more quickly to the new situation and this may also mean that they have to look for new fishing areas and new fishing techniques. This is difficult as our fishermen currently have no experience in other fishing grounds and have had access to British waters for centuries. “
It is not yet clear how the quota management of the jointly managed fish stocks will develop after the transition period. “After the transition, we will have to negotiate with the British on quotas and access annually. For the aspect of access, the Charter of Privileges remains a relevant legal document. Regarding catch quotas, an agreement was reached whereby 25 percent of the value that European fishing boats fish in British waters today will be returned to the British. Fish species that are abundant in British waters such as sole, rays, anglerfish and plaice are very important to Flemish fishermen. This has serious consequences for our fishermen. The exact impact that the sector will feel immediately from January 1st is not yet clear. “
Agreements must also be made between the various European countries on how to deal with the changed fishing opportunities during the transition period. Also, few details are known of how the European Union can react if the UK increases reimbursement rates after the transition period.
In the coming weeks, Minister Crevits will remain in close contact with the shipowner center, the fish auction and the most affected Member States to assess the exact impact. A new website has also been launched to keep fishermen and businesses informed as quickly and efficiently as possible.