Denmark has accused the United Kingdom of violating the post-Brexit fisheries agreement by proposing a restriction on harmful bottom trawling in a North Sea conservation zone.
Environmentalists applauded the UK’s announcement in February that it sought to stop bottom trawling on the Dogger Bank conservation zone in the North Sea, hoping to witness a recovery of halibut, sharks, and skate in the once-rich sandbank.
Rasmus Prehn, Denmark’s fisheries minister, told the Guardian that such plans were incompatible with the post-Brexit agreement.
“Until 2026, the Brexit deal guarantees free access [for EU vessels] to fish in UK seas.” As a result, if the British government decides to modify this, it will be a major problem for us. That is unacceptable to us, and it is a violation of our agreement,” he added.
The accusation adds to the UK government’s already tense relationship with France over fishing rights, which is set against a backdrop of post-Brexit tensions with the EU.
According to the Danish government, Dogger Bank, a vast shallow sandbank about 90 miles north-east of the Humber estuary, has been fished by Danish boats for generations and is one of the country’s most significant fishing grounds.
EU fishermen may continue to use UK seas as before until 30 June 2026, thanks to the Brexit trade and cooperation deal reached between the EU and the UK on Christmas Eve. This transition will help to soften the shock of future curtailed fishing rights.
The agreement also commits both parties to “supporting the long-term viability” of the shared waters’ 70 common fish.
Danish fishermen, according to Prehn, “are already in a really tough situation owing to Brexit, so this would make things much more difficult for them, which we can’t really support.”
While he stated it was too early to talk about possible reprisal, he expressed his unhappiness with how the UK-Denmark relationship has deteriorated since Brexit.
“It’s quite tough to reach an agreement, and then we have difficulties with one component a year later; that’s not acceptable, and that’s not how we generally reach deals.” “We used to have a great connection with the United Kingdom,” Prehn stated.
He was speaking from Brussels, where the UK and EU are in the last stages of discussions to set fishing catch restrictions for 2022, with a deadline of December 10th.
Denmark and the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community in 1973, but were too late to influence the original version of the shared fisheries strategy, causing British officials irritation.
Between 2013 and 2020, Danish bottom trawlers in Dogger Bank caught harvests worth 27 million DKK (€3.6 million, £3.05 million), largely sand eel, which is utilized in fish farms but also provides food for puffins, kittiwakes, and seals.
Dogger Bank is also home to fishing interests from Germany and the Netherlands, which environmentalists claim has been overworked by trawls and dredges, resulting in a significant drop in fish.
Bottom trawling is a method of fishing that includes dragging weighted nets over the seabed.
Environmentalists applauded the government’s move to safeguard Dogger Bank, but said the UK should make similar measures to protect fish targeted by British anglers.
“On the Dogger Bank, the UK is offering a daring and excellent agreement,” said Irene Kingma, a Dutch marine researcher. “It’s also quite easy… when you’re not affecting your own fishery.”
“As long as it doesn’t interfere with their own fishing interests,” she noted, “the UK is incredibly progressive on all environmental concerns.” “They are good at [saving] Dogger Bank because the Dutch fish its flatfish, and they are good at [protecting] the industrial fisheries [sandeel] because the Danish fish it.” However, they are adamant about not moving on cod when it comes to Scottish fishing vessels.”
The government of the United Kingdom has been approached for comment.