The Strategic Advisory Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (SALV), which advises the Flemish government and parliament, has called on policy-makers at regional and federal level to make work of agreeing a sustainable fisheries policy the meets the interests of the Belgian industry – which is concentrated in Flanders.
The UK has now left the European Union, to enter into a one-year transitional phase of relations when a trade policy will be hammered out – in theory. If no agreement is reached, the UK has committed to ending the transitional phase regardless, and there will be no trade agreement in place.
Britain has made its position on fisheries clear. Last week the government introduced its new fisheries bill, including new powers for the Scottish government on the protection of fish stocks and the marine environment. The bill also commits the government to pulling out of the Common Fisheries Policy at the end of the year, whatever new agreements may have been negotiated.
“The Fisheries Bill gives us the powers to implement our own independent fisheries policy, take back control of British waters, improve our marine habitats and make decisions based on the health of our fish stocks not vested interests,” said fisheries minister George Eustice. “For many people in coastal communities, leaving the Common Fisheries Policy is at the heart of getting Brexit done, and this Bill delivers for the environment, fishermen and the Union” – referring to the union between Scotland and the rest of Britain, under pressure from Scotland’s decision to seek a new independence referendum in the light of Brexit.
For the SALV, that loss would be catastrophic for the Belgian fishing fleet.
“Our fleet has a strong presence in British waters, and the UK is an important link in the chain of supply of materials and in fish transport to Belgium’s ports,” the SALV said in a published advice. “We call on Flemish and federal policy-makers to agree on concrete policy proposals to bring to the negotiating table.”
That includes the maintenance of the status quo on access to British waters and national shares of catches, as well as the creation on this side of the water of a “Brexit cell” involving all levels of government in Belgium in the preparation and drafting of new regulations.