A Brit’s guide to Brexit

There’s a dreaded B-word that hangs on the periphery of conversation at all times here in the UK, with the power to drive a wedge between friends, family, co-workers at the drop of a hat. It’s like an elephant in the room, only with sharper teeth.

You’ve probably already guessed that the word is Brexit (I bet whoever coined that phrase wished they were getting royalties on whenever it is used) and amazingly it has been almost two years since the British public narrowly voted to leave the European Union. Since then it’s been lurking as a disquieting and divisive part of the national psyche – whether you were for or against it, the issue has dragged.

We’re now less than a year from the date it is finally meant to happen (29th March 2019), so isn’t it time we knew what the effects will be on business, and more specifically the fishing business? Of course we should. However, with an issue this big and this complicated, it’s still not certain what Brexit will mean for the fishing industry in the UK, Europe and beyond.

What we know about Brexit

One key issue for many anglers in the Brexit vote, and a key reason many voted to leave, was to allow Britain more control over its own seas – we are an island, after all. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy leans heavily in favour of European mainland nations getting preferential access to what many see as British waters. It also means the EU has the final say on all things to do with saltwater fishing.

This policy largely addresses commercial fishing, but it has created issues for recreational anglers too. Over the last few years recreational anglers have been subject to sea bass catch limits and even total bans, being wrongly blamed for declining fish stocks, more likely caused by commercial fishermen. At present, it appears that the UK and the 27 other EU nations have agreed to keep this in place until at least 2021, and perhaps beyond that, as seems to be the want of the EU. This would mean the EU would still be able to impose poorly thought-out regulations on the UK’s recreational fishing industry, which have already caused businesses significant harm with less and less anglers inclined to take to the coast to pursue catching sea bass.

UK anglers are discouraged by sea bass regulations set in place by the EU
Fishing for sea bass on the Devon coast. Photo: Steve Phillips

One thing the UK is really lacking is a strong industry association to stand up for fishing – the most prominent body, the Angling Trust, has struggled to coordinate sea fishermen (who don’t even require a licence to fish) and also struggled to be recognized at Government level. This is despite its own estimates that say recreational fishing has a value of £579million—over $780 million. Clearly, work needs to be done if the UK really does want to ‘take back control’ of its saltwater angling.

In terms of wider changes with regard to trade – British Prime Minister Theresa May (who interestingly enough campaigned to remain within the EU before she got the top job) seems adamant that the UK will leave the EU’s custom union, meaning the tariff-free trade the UK enjoyed with the other 27 countries within it will be no more. Clearly this will have a major impact on businesses who import and also export to mainland Europe, increasing their costs. However, one thing the EU nations are tied to with this customs union is that all goods imported from outside the group have fixed tariffs.

If the UK is able to negotiate more beneficial trade deals with the likes of the United States and Asian nations, then it could potentially offset any damage caused by losing beneficial rates with European countries.

What we don’t know about Brexit

Frustratingly, quite a lot. The main and most bewildering thing we don’t know about Brexit is how long anything will take. The government has entered into a lot of internal bun fighting with each small sector trying to protect its interests best:

  • We know the trading landscape will change, but we don’t know how.
  • We know the current levels of freedom of movement for EU citizens will change, but we don’t know how.
  • We know a lot of EU law will be incorporated into British law, but we don’t know which legislation or how.

There are a lot of unanswered questions that are big concerns for fishing tackle businesses.

  • Do their products have to meet a whole new set of safety standards for the UK?
  • Can they employ staff in Europe such as agents and distributors as easily?
  • Can companies with headquarters or facilities in Europe, such as Zebco-owned Preston Innovations or Fox somehow find a way to sideskirt some of the changes?

There are, at present just too many unanswered questions, which seem to get muddier on a weekly basis.

There has even been talk of British people having to pay a visa waiver fee to enter countries they could previously come and go from at will – could this affect Europe’s biggest angling trade show EFTTEX, which always relies on a big British presence for its footfall?

One thing that is looking more and more likely is that the British people may get a say on the terms of any Brexit deal that is finally agreed via another vote of some kind, so you’d hope that the opportunity to shoot ourselves well and truly in the foot will be avoided.

What does it all mean?

In all reality, once Brexit has come to pass and the dust has settled on the changes it creates, it is likely that it won’t be as bad as many would have you believe. The world isn’t going to cut the UK off just because of the changes Brexit will bring, and in fact it may present some interesting opportunities for those willing to think outside the box.

For American firms, the whole Brexit process could actually end up being a good thing, as it will definitely be in the British interest to strengthen ties with its closest ally – this could mean better import and export tariffs for fishing companies trading across the pond. There’s a lot to be sorted out in a short space of time, but one thing that is guaranteed is that UK anglers will carry on fishing.