The worrying conclusions of an impressive piece of research from the National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisations (NFFO) should not come as a surprise to Defra. It’s something that UK Fisheries, the company I represent, has been talking about for the past three years – ever since HRH The Princess Royal christened our flagship trawler Kirkella at Greenwich. But now the truth has been laid bare. Boris Johnson’s claim of £148m in additional quota from the TCA – our Brexit deal with the EU – is in reality a potential loss of £300m or more by 2026 for almost all of the UK’s 5,000-strong fishing fleet.
That’s a real-terms £65m annual loss for hard-pressed fishers right across the industry – from the crab boats of Falmouth to the whitefish trawlers of Peterhead.
The distant-waters fleet, which UK Fisheries operates, stands on its own to lose almost £35m each year from the Government’s failure to renew quota deals with our traditional partner states Norway, the Faroes and Greenland.
Obviously, no company can afford to sustain this kind of hit in the long run, and the sad truth is that we have already had to lay off some of our highly-skilled Hull-based trawlermen.
This is a tragedy for them and their families, and has come as a particularly savage blow in the Humber region, where good jobs such as these are difficult to come by. And the truth is that this is all completely unnecessary, because as an Independent Coastal State we are now completely free to do mutually beneficial deals with whoever we like. The EU is not to blame.
Written by a respected former Defra negotiator, the NFFO report shows that the government’s claimed £148m in additional quota from the EU turns out to be largely ‘paper fish’ – stocks that may exist on a Whitehall spreadsheet but can’t economically be taken from the sea. And you can’t eat that with your chips.
It’s extraordinary that the government hasn’t produced its own Brexit profit and loss account for an industry that it claims to cherish as a part of our national heritage, but the unanimous backing of the NFFO membership for this authoritative work is surely a voice that is too loud and clear to be ignored.
While the government may claim that it has regained quota for a small handful of UK pelagic fishers (species like mackerel), its actions in the aftermath of Brexit have been to the detriment of the vast majority of the UK fleet, as the NFFO report shows.
The exact causes of the projected industry losses differ in the various sectors (tariffs, red tape, border controls, etc.), what we all have in common is that the promises a bright future for fishing in the UK have turned out to be nothing more than sea mist.
All is not yet lost, but this is an industry that has been misled and is holed beneath the waterline. It is now time to act with urgency and commitment.
By renegotiating real fish – not paper ones – with the EU, cutting red tape and reopening trade flows with our most important partners, we can throw a lifebuoy to the huge sections of the industry who desperately need it. And by urgently entering into serious talks with Norway, Greenland and the Faroes we can even at the eleventh hour save a distant waters fleet, and the livelihoods of the men and women who are still hoping to fish in that fabled Sea of Opportunity.