View: UK can order tasty fishing deal from Nordic states

06 July 2020

The future of the UK’s distant waters fleet is in jeopardy if we don’t take great care in ongoing negotiations with our Nordic non-EU coastal neighbours. The opportunity is there for our negotiating teams to guarantee its future. We must now take it. 

The UK runs a trade deficit with the Nordic coastal fishing nations amounting to almost a billion pounds annually. It’s a very one-sided arrangement.  

As a newly-independent coastal state, the UK has the opportunity to assert its independence and use the size of its domestic market for fish to strike better fisheries access deals with Norway, Greenland and the Faeroes – and with Iceland, where currently we can’t fish at all.

The UK’s distant-waters fleet has operated in these waters for a century or more, effectively turning Nordic fish into British fish and supplying around one in 12 of the portions of fish & chips sold through our chippies. But a lack of joined-up thinking in Whitehall could end all that.

Most of the fish we eat in the UK comes from distant waters, and not from the UK. We like cod, haddock, salmon and prawns – species that are most abundant in the northern waters between Norway and Greenland, and far less so in our own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). What we catch in our own waters is mostly exported to the EU. So the fish-based Nordic economies are reliant on the UK for exports of their fish (salmon, cod, haddock and prawns).  


Brexit will give us the ability to leverage our billion-pound domestic market for fish to maintain or improve access to these Nordic waters. Each of these countries can now freely sell fish to the UK, with little reciprocal economic benefit to us. For example, the UK currently has no right to fish in Icelandic waters, so they can sell their fish to us with no quid pro quo. In the case of Norway, the Faroes and Greenland, the UK distant fleet gets some quota tied to a series of linked trade and fisheries deals. But we can do so much better if our negotiators at DIT and DEFRA work in a joined-up manner and use all of the levers at their disposal.

Make no mistake, our Nordic coastal partners recognise that the UK has strong cards to play. They’re just surprised that we haven't played them yet. They don’t expect to get something for nothing, and while we should expect them to bargain hard, we must not give them even better terms than the great deal they already have.

Norway, for example, knows full well just how closely trade and fisheries access are linked. When negotiating to join the European Economic Area in 1993, Norway paid for its advantageous trade terms in two ways – firstly it gave improved access to its waters to EU fishing vessels, and secondly it paid billions into EU coffers. Our UK negotiators would do well to remember this.

EU-UK issues are of course important, but not at the expense of future Nordic fisheries deals. As the UK focuses on its relations with the EU, there is a danger that opportunities for advantageous deals with the Nordic countries are overlooked. We must not allow this to happen.

Types of fish:

Key facts about northern Atlantic fishing:

The quota system:

Kirkella, the UK's leading freezer trawler:

Fish & chips


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Kirkella drone footage
The Kirkella Naming celebration lunch at the Cutty Sark Museum
The Fish Fryers free fish & chip event at Cutty Sark Gardens for 2,500 locals
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Sir Barney White-Spunner, Chairman of the Advisory Board, UK Fisheries, at the Kirkella Naming celebration dinner at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Kirkella sailing upstream through Tower Bridge
Kirkella sailing downstream through Tower Bridge
HRH The Princess Royal with Graham Barney, Factory Manager, Kirkella
HRH The Princess Royal with Charlie Waddy, First Mate, on the bridge of Kirkella
HRH The Princess Royal unveiling a model of Kirkella presented by UK Fisheries to the National Maritime Museum
HRH The Princess Royal Naming Kirkella at Greenwich
HRH The Princess Royal meeting Stig Maersk, Musical Director, and players in the City of Hull Brass Band
HRH The Princess Royal making her address at the Kirkella Naming Ceremony in Greenwich
2,500 local people in Greenwich enjoying free Kirkella-caught cod & chips
Sir Barney White-Spunner, Chairman of the Advisory Board, UK Fisheries Ltd
UK Fisheries infographic
Kirkella poster
Cutaway illustration of Kirkella
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