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Fishing from a Smaller Pool - What will Brexit mean for Europe’s Seas?

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Ocean News

It’s been a very tempestuous week of political fallout since the UK voted by 52% to leave the European Union in a public vote. Seas At Risk* is determined to continue working with its members inside and outside the UK for a healthy marine environment.

The dramatic decision by the British people to leave the European Union has been followed by equally dramatic fallout, as government and political leaders have been falling faster than the value of the pound sterling. The EU has been left reeling by the result, and there is a sense that the process of the UK’s departure will be both damaging and disruptive to both bodies over the next few years.

From the point of view of environmental protection, namely the protection of Europe’s seas, British departure from the EU’s common environmental, fisheries and transport policies will have significant effects. The outcome of this will depend on the nature of the agreement under which the UK departs the Union (if that actually even happens), contributing the sense of uncertainty, with some talking of a ‘bonfire of the directives’ worst case scenario.

Should the UK seek to stay in the EU’s single market mechanisms and pursue an arrangement similar to Norway’s, they will still have to adhere to many single market rules and standards, but they would no longer be obliged to comply with the Birds and Habitats Directive, the backbone of EU nature protection, or the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. In their report this March, The potential policy and environmental consequences for the UK of a departure from the European Union, the IEEP has outlined this and other effects of Brexit, including potentially a departure from the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, should the UK not opt for a final settlement within the European Economic Area. This could potentially greatly complicate implementation of EU policy, as the UK’s territorial waters would sit amongst those of many EU member states, yet not be subject to the same rules and regulations.

Seas At Risk believes that while it is the right of the British people to decide their own political future, it is also incumbent on the remaining EU member states to push to maintain the strongest possible protections for our marine environment. Protecting the environment is regularly cited as one of the most popular areas of the EU’s work, and while the Union must adapt in the face of last Friday’s result, there is no reason that this area of action is one that should be reduced.

In fisheries management, especially, nobody wishes to see a return to the combative and destructive era before stocks were managed by a common EU policy. The CFP was mentioned numerous times in the Brexit campaign itself, but usually as an anachronistic and unrecognisable version that no longer exists. Already, it seems that promises made by the Leave side during the campaign are failing to live up to the reality.

Seas At Risk will continue working with our UK member organisations to ensure that all the progress made to date is not lost under a wave of misinformation. Any agreement with UK must honour the protections we have helped to create, and ensure that a British exit (or re-entry, or eventual remain) must not damage our shared heritage.

*Seas at Risk Alliance is a European association of non-governmental organizations working to protect and restore the health of the European and Northeast Atlantic seas. As a member, Project AWARE is working alongside other Alliance members to ensure that EU governments take marine litter seriously and commit to adopting the most effective measures to tackle the problem including setting aggressive marine litter reduction targets for all EU States.

Photo by Albert Kok

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