As an island in the Atlantic the UK has the right to fish large swathes of ocean off its coast: a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

I think this is how it works inside the EU: the UK relinquishes the right to the EEZ. Up to 12 nautical miles offshore is exclusive to UK boats and the rest is shared via a system of quotas with the other EU member states.

How are quotas shared among member states - does everyone get an equal catch quota?

And why is this resource shared in this way? The coal fields in Germany and the oil in the North Sea are not shared in this way. So why are the fish in the UK EEZ?

  • 2
    Steel and coal were among the first to be covered by the predecessors of the EU ...
    – o.m.
    Feb 5, 2019 at 18:48
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    It was a question of sharing market access, so that previously national companies were no longer national companies but European ones acting in a supranational market. Instead of a German of French steel industry, there was an European steel industry with facilities in different countries. Read about the ECSC. The infrastructure still belonged to capitalists and shareholders.
    – o.m.
    Feb 5, 2019 at 18:59
  • 1
    Thank you. So I think my question still stands. Why is the fishing resource itself shared, unlike, for example, coal?
    – 52d6c6af
    Feb 5, 2019 at 19:13
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    The EU rules allow tradespeople or bankers to work in any state of the Union. Why make an exception for fishermen?
    – o.m.
    Feb 5, 2019 at 19:20
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    I think it's important to clarify that the EEZ is technically still international territory. This is distinct from sovereign territory (e.g. land, or ocean within the 12-mile limit). While international treaties give certain states preferential access to resources within the EEZ, the status of EEZ territory (and thus the resources therein) are categorically different from the status of on-land or within-territorial-waters territories (and resources).
    – R.M.
    Feb 5, 2019 at 23:18

1 Answer 1


It's only part of the story but it's easy to find a justification for a Common Fisheries Policy: Fish moves around and depletion of the resource impacts everybody. So much so that there are in fact other international organisations dealing with this issue to which the EU defers in part when setting its “total allowable catch”. Beyond that, the story is somewhat similar to the Common Agricultural Policy: It was there from the start (and as such a “take it or leave it” proposition for subsequent would-be members) and is sustained by powerful constituencies.

Besides, it's not just the “fish of the UK EEZ” that is being shared and the UK hasn't “relinquished” anything. The regulation and resources are pooled, which is not quite the same. The sector-by-sector zero-sum view of EU policies that is so common in the UK is short-sighted but in this case the UK might be a net beneficiary: UK quotas are the second largest in the EU and their overall share of the total allowable catch is larger than what is being caught in the UK EEZ. As always with trade, what's really at stake are competing local interests (big boats vs. large boats, specific fisheries, supermarkets, consumers…) and long-term sustainability rather than the interests of the country as a whole.

  • Numerous examples of actions of neighbouring states impacting others eg. CO2 emissions “move” globally - yet EU oil/coal fields are not “pooled resources.” Instead, multilateral agreements ensure fair resource management to avoid too much harm to one another. As to “relinquish”: the definition is “to voluntarily give up claim to.” That is precisely what the UK (and other members) sign up to when they become (or continue to be) members. They relinquish the claim for the duration of their membership to their 200nm EEZ. An island in the Atlantic, I would expect UK quota to be relatively large.
    – 52d6c6af
    Feb 5, 2019 at 21:35
  • @Ben That's why the EU adopted several package of measures regarding CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, coal just doesn't move, that's a simple fact. None of this changes anything to the clear justification for fisheries management. It would still be completely valid if the EU had never taken any measures regarding coal, CO2 or any other sector. At this point it sounds to me as if you're grasping at straws and becoming argumentative, which is why I asked what you really wanted to know.
    – Relaxed
    Feb 6, 2019 at 4:55
  • I “really” want to know the answer to the question in the... question. The subtext is all my lived experiences. There’s always a subtext. On CO2 the resources have not been pooled or shared. The CO2 emissions measures are an example of managing harm to neighbours without sharing the resource itself. For fish, the UK could have instead signed up to a multilateral framework of catch quotas to avoid overfishing impacting neighbouring stocks. But this is not how fishing is designed in the EU: the resource itself is shared (as I understand it). Hence my question.
    – 52d6c6af
    Feb 6, 2019 at 6:19
  • ...and if I challenge your answer it is not because I am being argumentative. It is because doing so helps me strengthen my understanding.
    – 52d6c6af
    Feb 6, 2019 at 6:34
  • @Ben You asked at least two or three very broad questions, I gave you the answer to the main one and you just won't accept it, which leads me to believe you're interested in something else. As I already wrote, the comparison with other sectors is neither here nor there to understand how fishing in the EU is structured or why resources are pooled but as a matter of fact, for CO2, the resources are pooled. That's exactly what an emission trading scheme is.
    – Relaxed
    Feb 6, 2019 at 7:16

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