Not all fish in the Channel belong to the EU

31 May 2023
What was claimed

All fish in the English Channel belong to the EU.

Our verdict

This is not true. Fishing rights in the Channel, as in all waters surrounding the UK, are managed with a quota system.

What was claimed

All humans in the Channel belong to the UK.

Our verdict

This is misleading. While the UK does have an obligation to maintain coastal search and rescue operations (as all other coastal states do) and does provide support to asylum seekers while their claim is considered, it is wrong to suggest that France does not have a role in preventing small boat crossings in the Channel.

A post on Facebook claims that “all fish in the English Channel belong to the EU”, and “all humans found in the English Channel belong to the UK”. 

But this isn’t true. The UK and EU both have their own fishing quotas, which means the UK is entitled to its own proportion of fishing stock in the Channel. 

While the UK does have a responsibility towards people in distress in the English Channel, and asylum seekers are entitled to support including accommodation, it is misleading to suggest that the EU does not also have an obligation towards people crossing the English Channel. 

False or misleading claims online have the potential to harm individuals, groups and democratic processes and institutions. Online claims can spread fast and far, and are difficult to contain and correct. 

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Not all fish in the Channel belong to the EU

Since January 2021, fishing rights for stocks shared between the EU and the UK have been determined through a series of annual consultations. 

Before Brexit fish stocks in the waters around the UK were considered EU fish resources under the Common Fisheries Policy meaning that while the UK could fish in its own waters, things like controlling which vessels could access different areas of the sea and how long they could spend at sea was managed by the European Commission. Fishing stocks are now considered shared resources

But now, under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, 25% of the EU’s fishing rights in UK waters are to be progressively transferred to the UK’s fleets between 2021 and 2026. 

The most recent round of quotas, which specify what species can be caught where, was agreed in December 2022

The UK isn’t solely responsible for people crossing the English Channel 

While the wording of the post is vague, the phrase “humans found in the English Channel” appears to refer to people crossing the Channel in small boats. 

While the UK has seen a sharp increase each year since early 2020 in the number of people arriving in the UK after crossing in small boats, and the RNLI carries out many rescue operations of people stranded at sea in the Channel while crossing in small boats, it is not true that the UK is responsible for all people “found” in the Channel. 

The French coast guard has carried out many rescues of people who got into difficulty while attempting the crossing.

Coastal states are responsible for rescuing people in their own waters  

Each coastal state can claim 12 miles of territorial sea from its coastline. At its narrowest point, on the Strait of Dover, the Channel is just 21 miles wide, which means that at the point where many small boats attempt to cross there are no international waters—meaning French territorial waters immediately meet those of the UK.

If a boat is found to be in distress within a country’s national waters, it is generally the case that that nation is responsible for the rescue effort. 

In the international waters of the Channel, which fall outside of UK and French territories, the sea is split into search and rescue zones divided between both countries. 

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, “every coastal state” including the UK is required to promote the establishment and maintenance of an effective search and rescue service. 

Under the same law, nations have a duty to provide assistance to people in distress and should “proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance”.

This means both the UK and France have an obligation to rescue people stranded at sea in their own waters. 

French authorities patrol beaches to prevent crossings 

As part of a series of ongoing deals with the UK, French authorities also patrol beaches in the north of the country in efforts to stop people from undertaking the crossing to the UK. 

The Home Office said in January that French authorities “prevented nearly 33,000 crossings” in 2022, adding that this represented an increase of more than 40% compared to 2021. 

Asylum seekers are entitled to support while their claim is being considered 

Everyone arriving in a different country, including the UK, is entitled to claim asylum but that does not mean that country is obliged to accept their asylum claim. According to the most recent government statistics (which cover the year ending March 2023) the majority of people who arrive by small boat claim asylum, with 90% having an asylum claim recorded either as a main applicant or dependent, at the time of data extraction. The vast majority of these asylum claims are still awaiting a decision, with 305 people being granted protection and 156 people being refused protection. 

Across all applicants (not just those who arrived by small boat) 76% of initial decisions on asylum applications made in 2022 granted refugee status, humanitarian protection or alternative forms of leave—the highest rate in 30 years. The government has recently introduced laws and policies designed to deter asylum claims. 

People who are claiming asylum are entitled to government support, including accommodation and a small allowance, while their claim is being considered. Some support is also available to people who are destitute and have had their asylum claim rejected but can show a reason why they are unable to leave the country immediately. 

Image courtesy of Immanuel Giel

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