Leading Brexiteer Owen Paterson wrote in an article in the Telegraph about fisheries:

At present, the UK provides 50 per cent of the EU’s waters but receives only a 25 per cent share of the Total Allowable Catch.

Is this assessment correct in both the facts and their implication? I.e. are the two parts separately true and are they also supposed to be connected that way, e.g. is the water area considered a principal factor in assigning fishing quotas in international law?

The whole point of that article seems to me is to claim that (when it comes to fisheries) the UK is getting taken advantage of (to borrow an expression common in foreign policy on the other side of the Atlantic nowadays)... and that this could all change after Brexit. It's hard not to read that as "we have 50% of the water, therefore we should also have 50% of the fish." Cue in mention of winning trade fishing wars, which is actually present in the title of the article: "After Iceland won the cod wars, their independent fisheries thrived. Britain can do the same".

  • Could I ask what you mean by "are the two parts true and are they also supposed to be connected that way?" Apr 28, 2019 at 10:33
  • @BarryHarrison: see edit.
    – Fizz
    Apr 28, 2019 at 10:36
  • Is the answer answering your new edit? Apr 28, 2019 at 10:45
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    Maybe if some British MEPs had attented the Fishery meetings (looking at Farage, who was absent during 33 of 34 meetings that he was supposed to attend).
    – gnasher729
    Apr 28, 2019 at 18:00

1 Answer 1


From the European Environment Agency (an agency of the EU),

Combined EEZ of >15 million km2, the largest marine domain in the world


[Overseas entities] also contribute to a significant extension of the European Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), 60% of which is adjacent to the EU overseas entities making it the world’s largest and most diverse marine EEZ.

Thus, the non-overseas EU EEZ is approximately 6,000,000 km2.

From the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the UK's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is 6,805,586 sq km. Thus, the UK's waters are, at best, 45.4% of the EU's. This value includes the British Overseas Territories, and isn't just the mainland UK (thanks @Robert Tausig and @Fizz for pointing this out).

The UK (mainland)'s EEZ is, according to Sea Around Us, 756,639 km2. This is 12.6% of the EU's total EEZ.

Regarding the Total Allowable Catch, The Conversation says

In 2015, the CFP allocated the United Kingdom a total of 612,612 tonnes of quota from more than 100 different fish and shellfish stocks. The total EU quota for these stocks was 2,069,202 tonnes, so the UK was allocated 30% of these fish (and shellfish) quotas.

As such, the UK was allocated 29.6% of the total allowable catch in 2015.

At present, the UK provides 50 per cent of the EU’s waters but receives only a 25 per cent share of the Total Allowable Catch.

The UK provides 12.6 percent of the EU's waters and received greater than 25 percent of the total allowable catch (in 2015). The claim is "flat out wrong". (thanks @Robert Tausig)

Note (per Fizz):

The total allowable catch is, according to Full Fact, set

based largely on how much [member states] fished in those areas in the 1970s, before the Common Fisheries Policy came into effect.

Thus, water area is not considered a principal factor in assigning fishing quotas. The fishing quotas are not assigned by "international law", but by the EU itself.

Interesting note:

From the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, between 2011 and 2015:

Non-UK European Union fishing boats landed about 700,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth almost £530 million, from the UK EEZ each year on average.

UK fishing boats landed 92,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, worth about £110 million, from other areas of the EU EEZ each year on average.

Note: The total allowable catch for 2019 can be calculated by adding all the numbers here, here, here, and here for 1) the UK and 2) all countries. I have not done this yet (it's a lot of numbers).

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    I presume to get close to the 45% you'd have to include UKs 14 current oversee-territories? Because by just looking at a map of Europe I can easily tell mainland UKs sea territory is far less than 50% of the EUs at large. EDIT: Yes, the 6,805,586 square km are the sum of of UK mainland + all oversea territories (Except the British Antarctic territory) (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exclusive_economic_zone#United_Kingdom). Unfortunately I found the citation lacking, but the point stands: Territories are included that are not actually part of the EU, making Patersons claim flat out wrong. Apr 28, 2019 at 13:42
  • Re: "The fishing quotas are not assigned by "international law", but by the EU itself." Yes, but there were plenty of fishing disputes outside the EU. There must be some international law principles that apply or were applied. The UNCLOS allows for arbitration and the WTO might have been involved as well.
    – Fizz
    Apr 28, 2019 at 18:13
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    @Fizz Re: "fishing disputes outside the EU": From here "International dispute settlement bodies including International Court of Justice (ICJ) and International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) have been playing an instrumental role in the development of international fisheries law through their decisions delivered in fisheries related matters." From this, I would guess the ICJ and ITLOS are involved in fishery disputes.I found this case... Apr 28, 2019 at 21:16
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    @BarryHarrison: Yes, thank you (Wouldn't have been necessary, I just wanted to improve the answer). I'm not mad, it is just curious. Apr 28, 2019 at 21:27
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    The EU EEZ (15 mil. sq km) that you found also includes overseas territories though (including France's) Those also don't come under CFP quotas. We need the EU-only EU EEZ...
    – Fizz
    Apr 28, 2019 at 21:52

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