Monday, 18 January 2021

Brexit - Condemnation north and south of the border

Widespread condemnation of the Brexit deal for fishing is being reported in the media, from the leader of Plymouth City Council here in the South West to Scotland Fishermen's Federation:

Over-promised and under-delivered; that’s the reality of the new fishing trade agreement with the EU says Councillor Tudor Evans OBE and the fishermen of Plymouth.

The Leader of Plymouth City Council has written a letter to George Eustice MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to express his disappointment at the trade agreement on fishing struck with the EU.

He said: “Plymouth is not only a major fishing port but also a regional hub for the South West industry. All around the coast fishing fleets located in harbours that no longer have auctions and merchant bases to support them or sales of their fish and rely on Plymouth trawler agents to do so.

“This is an industry not just valued for its economic contribution to our city, but its significance to our heritage. That is why I, along with the industry as a whole, are enormously disappointed by what has been delivered in this ‘oven ready’ Brexit deal.

“Fishing was highlighted as a key example of the EU stifling British industry. We were told that outside of the EU people working in the fishing industry would prosper, with exclusive access to our territorial waters and a much fairer share of the fish that’s in it. This trade deal does not achieve any of the promises that were made. Foreign vessels will still have access to UK territorial water and ironically there will be far more red tape for our exporters to deal with.

“Somehow this Brexit deal has managed to deliver all the bad bits and none of the good bits.”

The Council leader called for a number of measures to support the industry:

    • A substantial and targeted funding package - Ministers announced £100m will be made available for ‘modernising trawlers and fish processing’ but more substantial funds will be needed as over 75 per cent of the English fleet is over 20-years-old. Port infrastructure will also need updating. In Plymouth the Council is working with the industry and the port authority to develop proposals for a modern market and fish quay fit for the 21st Century, which would help to drive efficiencies for the whole supply chain.
    • A decommissioning scheme - The Government is looking to strengthen marine conservation measures and further restrict some fishing activities. While we support measures to protect the marine environment, the impact on some fishermen whose traditional grounds would be closed to them should be recognised. Reducing the size of the fleet would help avoid displacement problems and gear conflicts, improve the profitability of remaining businesses and assist the Government to deliver its objective of a modern, sustainable and profitable fleet. Fishermen in Plymouth and elsewhere, in particular those with boats under 10 metres, understand their local fishing grounds will not be protected from EU access. They also understand they are unlikely to receive any big windfalls of quotas they were expecting. As a result they are asking for serious consideration of an urgent decommissioning scheme.
    • Distribution of quota - The quota system should be more transparent and support a diverse fleet. Allocations should take into account the effects on the entire supply chain, with a direct link between quota allocation and benefits to coastal communities. Given the hardships experienced by the industry here, we ask that priority is given to assisting the south west industry. Safety and wellbeing of fishermen - Improved rest and social facilities for fishermen, greater hands-on business support and means of enhancing the earnings of fishermen.
    • A new model of community engagement - We want a genuine collaborative approach that sees DEFRA and its agencies working with the Council and the LEP alongside the local fishing industry. We in Plymouth stand ready to meet this challenge.
    • Improve the operation of regulatory processes - An urgent need for more effective liaison and communication on regulatory systems governing exports to the EU. Problems have arisen which go beyond expected teething difficulties.

He added: “This is not the time for recrimination but a time for central and local government to roll up their sleeves and fix these bottlenecks. It is not important at this stage if the problems are user error or system error, the knock on effects of export stalling means more fish is left on the market for the UK trade to attempt to sell in the middle of a pandemic with the hospitality trade closed down.

“Our fishing fleets are indeed facing the perfect storm. Brexit should be used as an opportunity to strengthen this industry in cities like ours. Fishing is more than just work in Plymouth, it’s in our blood and this council will continue to fight for it.”

A copy of the letter is also being sent to the Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

and then from Scotland's SFF which represents the entire cross-section of fishermen's associations in Scotland.

Letter to Prime Minister from SFF Chief Executive

Dear Prime Minister

I am writing to you as the second week of 2021 draws to a close, and our industry is facing mounting financial losses. Many fishing vessels are tied to the quay wall. Of the others that can go to sea, some are now making a 72-hour round trip to land fish in Denmark, as the only way to guarantee that their catch will make a fair price and actually find its way to market while still fresh enough to meet customer demands.

This, on top of the desperately poor deal on fisheries in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, is not what you promised the fishing industry. In your letter to me of 6th July, you said: “We are simply not prepared to agree to an arrangement that is manifestly unbalanced and against the interests of the UK fishing industry.” Yet that is what has been agreed. You also said: “We are committed to ensuring there are annual negotiations for access to, and sharing of, fishing opportunities, based on the principle of zonal attachment.” Yet we find ourselves with an outcome where the EU fleet will continue to have full and unfettered access to UK waters until the middle of 2026, and should the UK want to change these arrangements at that point, the EU can impose a suite of punitive sanctions on the UK. No other coastal state in the world is in this position.

You and your Government have spun a line about a 25% uplift in quota for the UK, but you know this is not true, and your deal does not deliver that. The adjustment in shares falls very far short of your stated policy of basing these on zonal attachment. While there are some modest increases for some commercially important stocks, these fall very far short of zonal attachment. North Sea herring is a good example – under zonal attachment, the UK’s share would be around 90%. Your deal moves the UK share from 24.5% to 32.2% over five years – this can hardly be claimed as a resounding success. Of major concern, however, is the outcome for many key whitefish species. Your deal actually leaves the Scottish industry in a worse position on more than half of the key stocks and now facing acute problems with North Sea cod and saithe in particular.

This industry now finds itself in the worst of both worlds. Your deal leaves us with shares that not only fall very far short of zonal attachment, but in many cases fail to “bridge the gap” compared to historic catches, and with no ability to leverage more fish from the EU, as they have full access to our waters. This, coupled with the chaos experienced since 1st January in getting fish to market means that many in our industry now fear for their future, rather than look forward to it with optimism and ambition.

Your deal does provide a glimmer of hope for better times ahead, beyond 2026, if whoever is in power then makes the right decision – the decision that you should have made – for the UK to genuinely be an independent coastal state, and not one in name only. It was encouraging to hear George Eustice tell Parliament yesterday that the government will do this, though of course neither he nor you can guarantee who will be in power and able to make this decision in 2026. But this must be the goal to focus on. Your deal has failed the industry in the short term, but there is scope to rights its wrongs, and your Government needs to commit to doing everything that it can to achieve this.

The current situation however is such that many in the seafood supply chain fear they will not survive to see that opportunity materialise. You committed to the Liaison Committee this week that fishing businesses affected by the delays in getting fish to market since 1st January will be compensated for their losses, so we expect to see the details of this compensation scheme as a matter of urgency, and of course this must be new money, and not taken from the £100 million that you have already announced for investment and innovation.

There is huge disappointment and a great deal of anger about your failure to deliver on promises made repeatedly to this industry. We will have another chance to revisit this in 2026, so there is much to do between now and then to prepare the ground for that. But for now, the priorities must be your government securing enough fish though the talks currently taking place with the EU and Norway for 2021 to, as a minimum, bridge the gap that your deal failed to, and acting immediately to stem the losses that are mounting up and compensate those businesses already affected.

Your sincerely

Elspeth Macdonald

Chief Executive, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation