Can Brexiteers Really ‘Take Back Control’ of British Fisheries?

Can Brexiteers Really ‘Take Back Control’ of British Fisheries?
A fishing boat displays a pro-Brexit banner, near Newcastle, United Kingdom, April 8, 2018 (Photo by Owen Humphreys for Press Association via AP Images).

Many people in the United Kingdom’s coastal fishing communities supported the “Leave” campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum, since they consider European Union rules that allow other member states’ fishing boats to trawl British waters to be unfair. Now, British politicians committed to Brexit will have to make good on their promises to “take back control” of the U.K.’s rich fisheries. But that will prove difficult and may not even be in the best interest of British fishing communities, says Ben Drakeford, a senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. who specializes in fisheries economics. In an interview with WPR, he explains why.

World Politics Review: What does the U.K. hope to gain in terms of its fishing policy after leaving the EU, and what are the stakes for the British fishing industry?

Ben Drakeford: Under international law, any country has unique rights over all the economic resources within its exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, which extends up to 200 nautical miles from its coastline. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, or CFP, formally created in 1983, effectively amalgamated EU member states’ EEZs, granting free and equal access for all member states to each other’s coastal waters. The CFP has been rightly criticized for its failings, but in recent years, it has also been credited with reversing the decline in some managed stocks, like North Sea cod. Many British fishermen, however, feel the CFP has created more problems than it has solved. Some coastal areas of the U.K. with rich fishing heritages had high proportions of voters who opted to leave the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

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