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Territorial Waters

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN 2643, tabled on 3 July 2017

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what definition has been used to identify the waters the UK has historically exercised sovereign control over.

Answered on

10 July 2017

Historically, prior to joining the EU, the UK was an independent coastal state and abided by international law that existed at that time. When we leave the EU we will become an independent coastal state again and will abide by international law as it exists today.

From the eighteenth century until the middle of the twentieth century, UK territorial waters extended to three nautical miles. The UK extended its territorial waters to twelve nautical miles under the Territorial Sea Act, 1987.

Under the Fishery Limits Act 1976, the UK extended to 200 nautical miles the area over which it exercises fisheries controls. These British Fishery Limits are largely superseded by the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone, designated through an Order in 2013. This area is currently managed as part of EU waters under the Common Fisheries Policy but will be controlled by the UK when we leave the EU.

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