ANY attempt by the European Union to withhold a post-Brexit trade deal over fishing rights would be a “nuclear option”, industry leaders have warned.

As the latest talks between the EU and UK get under way, with a large focus on the controversial issue of fishing in the region’s waters, UK seafood industry representatives said it should be treated separately from trade negotiations. They also said the UK must leave the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) before the end of the year so the country can negotiate with Europe as an independent coastal state over fishing rights in 2021.

Many fishermen say the CFP has given other countries unfair levels of access and quotas to fish in UK waters.

The UK Government has said Brexit will mean the country will be an independent coastal state which controls its own waters, but the EU wants to see the status quo maintained for access and quotas. Fears have been raised that fishermen could lose out in the efforts to secure a wider trade deal. Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said: “Fishing rights are an entirely separate issue. The EU is trying to link them because it’s the only card it believes it has. It’s a nuclear option and would be extremely damaging to the EU and the UK.”

Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said the industry wanted to capitalise on the opportunity Brexit provides, which could as much as double the amount of fish the Scottish fleet catches over time – with knock-on benefits for the wider supply chain.

She said: “SFF has never said that we want to deny the EU fleet the opportunity to fish in our waters, but we’re very clear we must control access to these waters.”

Macdonald added that the UK must be able to negotiate as an independent coastal state with the EU, as the bloc does with other countries such as Norway, and the UK must be able to address imbalances in quota shares based on where the fish actually are, not on historic agreements.

She said: “The fisheries agreement must be separate from the wider trade negotiations and that is because there is no precedent anywhere else for linking these two issues.”