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The focus of this note is on the capture of wild fish and shellfish (marine capture fisheries). In 2016, the UK commercial fishing fleet comprised 11,757 fishermen and 6,191 vessels. These landed 701 thousand tonnes of fish and shellfish into the UK and abroad, valued at £936m. The UK fishing fleet is regionally diverse with regulations varying depending on the size of the vessel (different regulations apply to boats under 10 metres compared to larger boats) and species caught. In addition to their economic benefit, fisheries have social and cultural value for coastal communities and the public. Upon EU withdrawal, the UK Government intends to develop new fisheries access and management arrangements, which will be set out in a Fisheries Bill and White Paper. The briefing outlines some key aspects of fisheries, describes how fish stocks are assessed and how fisheries are currently managed, and some of the future challenges for UK fisheries management.

Key points in this POSTnote include:

  • The Government has stated that following EU withdrawal it intends to implement a new fisheries management system and will seek to restore and protect marine ecosystems.
  • The current EU Common Fisheries Policy requires that the size and status of fish stocks are assessed annually.
  • These assessments form the basis for setting catch limits (‘Total Allowable Catch’ – TACs) that are then shared among states via quotas. Each state is responsible for distributing its quotas among its fishing fleet.
  • Shared stocks with non-EU states are also assessed, and annual TACs negotiated.
  • Future UK management will have to meet international legal requirements.
  • A key future challenge will be managing fisheries in a changing environment while meeting other social and economic needs.


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Dr Bryce Stewart, University of York*
  • Prof Callum Roberts, University of York
  • Prof Michel Kaiser, Bangor University*
  • Prof Richard Barnes, University of Hull
  • Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, Plymouth University*
  • Dr Thomas Appleby, University of the West of England
  • Prof Jason Hall-Spencer, Plymouth University
  • Dr Craig McAngus, University of Aberdeen
  • Prof Jeremy Phillipson, Newcastle University*
  • Prof Andrew Serdy, University of Southampton*
  • Barrie Deas, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations
  • Bertie Armstrong, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation             
  • Dave Cuthbert, New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association  
  • Jim Pettipher, Coastal Producer Organisation*
  • David Jarrad, Shellfish Association of Great Britain
  • Dr Robert Colin-Bannister, Shellfish Association of Great Britain*
  • Mike Park, the Scottish White Fish Producers Association Ltd
  • Arron Brown, Fishing For Leave*
  • David Mitchell, Angling Trust
  • Mike Short, Provision Trade Federation/Seafood Industry Alliance*
  • Andrew Kuyk CBE, Provision Trade Federation/Seafood Industry Alliance*
  • Phil Haslam, Marine Management Organisation*
  • Dr Stephen Bolt, Association of Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authorities
  • Dr Carl O’Brien CBE, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science*
  • Dr Coby Needle, Marine Scotland*
  • Graham Rees, Welsh Government*
  • Paddy Campbell, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
  • Hazel Curtis, Seafish
  • Griffin Carpenter, New Economics Foundation*
  • Helen McLachlan, World Wildlife Fund
  • Andrew Clayton, PewTrust
  • Erin Priddle, Environmental Defense Fund*
  • Dr Mark Duffy, Natural England
  • Dr Declan Tobin, Joint Nature Conservation Committee
  • Dr Matt Frost, Marine Biological Association
  • Dr Emma Sheehan, Plymouth University *

*Denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing. 

Documents to download

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