A National Conversation Around Quota: Part 1

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has commenced public consultation to advise on the future allocation of additional fishing opportunities owned by the UK after Brexit. Here the APPG Secretariat’s Rebecca Kaye outlines how fishing opportunities can be allocated by managing either effort or catch.

After Brexit, access arrangements for EU vessels fishing in UK waters are likely to change, perhaps significantly. Whilst the UK will still have a responsibility to manage all shared stocks sustainably, the country will no longer be under the EU 'relative stability' key - the framework used to determine how fishing opportunities are shared out across EU Member States. As an island nation with a large exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and rich fishing grounds within those waters, it is likely that allowable catch for some key commercial species will increase for UK fishers if the government decides to reduce access by foreign vessels. 

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The Fisheries White Paper set out plans to promote a more competitive, profitable and sustainable fishing industry across the whole of the UK. These principles were fundamental to the subsequent development of the Fisheries Bill. The Fisheries White Paper indicated the UK and devolved administrations will continue to adhere to the EU’s principle of ‘maximum sustainable yield (MSY)’ to sustainably allocate all opportunities for UK fisheries.

To further the commitment to a sustainable fishing industry, the government is looking to determine how any additional fishing opportunities that may be gained as a result of Brexit, should be allocated in England. To inform this, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has opened a public consultation seeking both anecdotal and evidence-based examples of how different types of fishing opportunity allocations work in practise. 

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If the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of a commercial species is not fully allocated to the coastal state that has ownership of the waters, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states that foreign state vessels are, in some instances, entitled to fish this part of the stock. 

Simply put, fishing opportunities can be controlled by placing limits on either effort or catch.

Effort-Based Opportunity Allocation – Input Controls 

Effort-based allocation of fisheries opportunities limits how much effort each operator can put in to catching fish from a given fishery. These are limited through ‘input controls’ or ‘effort management’ that can be implemented by limiting: 

  • The number or size of vessels an operator can use, or

  • The number of hours an operator can be active (per day, month or year), or

  • The amount of gear, (such as pots or lines), that an operator can use. 

Over time,  technological improvements in vessels and gear increase the number of fish that can be caught from an individual vessel, or during a certain amount of time - this is known as ‘effort creep.’ 

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Effort management can incentivise improved efficiency, such that more catch can be landed within the effort restrictions. This could have a negative impact on stock, if catch overshoots the TAC or MSY before effort management controls can be implemented. Equally, it could have a positive impact, if innovative fishing methods can be applied more broadly to the fishing fleet, and effort management can be implemented in time to prevent risks to stock health.   


While less commonly used around the world, effort management can be effective in certain situations. Implementing effort controls can limit overexploitation when fisheries stock assessments are unavailable; as they are too expensive, out of date, or concern a new/emerging species. Effort management can also be implemented to enable a fish stock to recover. For example, the European Commission’s current, short-term ban on fishing the eastern Baltic cod is intended to allow the population of the stock to recover, thereby hoping to improve the environmental, economic and sustainability of the stock, long term.

Output-Based Opportunity Allocation – Output Controls

Fishing opportunities can also be allocated based on what comes out of the fishery. These ‘output controls’ manage fisheries through limiting the catch that each operator can land from a certain fishery. This ‘catch management’ is common in fisheries management around the world, and is predominantly allocated via quota

Quota allocation means that the TAC of a certain commercial fishery is divided up by fisheries managers, and each individual operator (or company) is granted access to a portion of the ‘opportunities.’ This allows them to catch a certain amount (number or tonnage) of fish within a given time period. 

  • Opportunities are usually proportionally allocated, based on historical catch data and the scale of the operator. 

  • Quota can also be bought, sold or leased between operators, depending on the specific fisheries management arrangement. 

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Catch management through quota relies heavily on fisheries stocks data, so that the allocation of opportunities among fishing operators ensures MSY. Consequently, where there is a lack of accurate stock assessments and catch reporting, allocating stocks via catch management can raise some concerns. Additionally, because quota can be sold, bought and leased, maintaining the ‘economic and social’ aspects of MSY can be brought to question if big companies seek to have a monopoly on opportunities in a given fishery. 

Adequate stock assessments and historic catch data on commercially valuable species are required to effectively implement catch management. Catch should be accurately monitored and regularly reported to control authorities and also used by fisheries managers to guide future allocation of TAC via quota. 

If a TAC is devised based on MSY, scientific and catch-based evidence, and fisheries managers can oversee the transfer of fishing opportunities, then allocating fishing opportunity through quota is often deemed the most environmentally, socially and economically sustainable allocation method. In practice, however, a combination of catch and effort management is often  implemented to best ensure MSY of commercial fisheries.

How to Best Allocate Opportunities for UK Fisheries?

To help inform how any additional fishing opportunities will be allocated after Brexit, the UK Government is seeking your views. The consultation will help to achieve the plans set out in the Fisheries White Paper for a more sustainable, profitable and competitive UK fishing industry.  Find out more and contribute to the consultation on the Defra website.

In our next blog post, The APPG Secretariat will consider how quota can be allocated to meet social, economic and environmental goals.