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The future of UK agriculture and fisheries post-Brexit: a new dawn?

Posted on 30 June 2017

Leading figures from industry, politics, the environmental sector and academia will gather in Westminster next week to launch two new reports on the potential implications of Brexit for UK agriculture and fisheries policy.


The reports follow the recent announcement of new bills on agriculture and fisheries policy

The reports follow the recent announcement of new bills on agriculture and fisheries policy in the Queen’s Speech.

Leading figures, including academics from the University of York and Queens’ University Belfast, argue that guidance from stakeholders and scientists is crucial in designing new legislation to ensure sustainable harvests from land and sea post-Brexit.

Bringing clear and impartial academic evidence together with views from leading stakeholders in the field, the reports identify priorities and highlight the risks and opportunities facing these sectors in the coming months and years.

Experts agree that opportunities for Brexit include:

  • A unique opportunity to think ambitiously on how to reform current policy and design more sustainable and forward-looking solutions. Both the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy have been criticised for encouraging wasteful practices and over-fishing in the past.
  • New policies can put sustainability at the heart of policies. Both farmers and fishers recognise the importance of environmental protection for the future health of their sectors.
  • Future farm payments should be linked to the provision of environmental services such as species and habitat protection or climate change mitigation.
  • For fishers and the seafood industry, it is income and jobs – not yield – that are most important. Both rely on a healthy marine environment.
  • Future policies need to be sensitive to local environmental, economic and political conditions. The devolved authorities in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will need to play a meaningful role in the revision of these policies.

At the same time, experts stress that the government must consider and provide solutions to the following facts and challenges:

  • Maintaining zero or low tariff trade is important. Agricultural and seafood products are traded across the EU, with the National Farmers’ Union estimating that 25 per cent of food consumed in the UK comes from the EU, and that approximately 73 per cent of UK agri-food exports go to the EU.
  • The seafood processing sector, which has an annual turnover of more than £3 billion, relies primarily on imported raw materials, largely from outside the EU, while most UK caught seafood is exported to the EU.
  • Both the agriculture and fisheries sectors are heavily dependent upon labour from the EU.
  • Future trade agreements may impact profits, employment, rural development and the environment.
  • The reduced size of the UK civil service will make the monitoring and enforcement of environmental protections and enforcement of fisheries regulations more challenging.

Dr Bryce Stewart, Lecturer in York’s Environment Department and lead author of the fisheries report, said: “Cooperation with the EU will remain essential post-Brexit. Many issues in these sectors are transboundary in nature. For example, most commercial fish species are highly mobile. Therefore, sharing the management of fisheries with neighbouring countries will continue to be necessary to ensure sustainability.”

Dr Viviane Gravey, Lecturer in EU environmental policy at Queen’s University Belfast and lead author of the agriculture report, said: “Our research found that Brexit presents an exciting opportunity to design new policies that avoid the pitfalls of some EU legislation.”

Further information:

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