UK fishermen usually sell a large proportion of their catch to the EU so access to EU markets is as important as the amount you catch. There is little point being able to catch more fish if you don’t have a market place where you can sell them at a profit.
In 2019, the UK fishing industry exported more than 333,000 tonnes of fish to the EU. That accounted for nearly half of the total catch of the UK fishing fleet and roughly three quarters of the total fish exports from the UK. Some parts of the industry – such as shellfish – are totally dependent on such exports.
Yet, according to Jacob Rees-Mogg, fish are “better and happier” because, after Brexit, they are “now British” and that “The key thing is we’ve got our fish back.”
SNP Common’s leader Tommy Sheppard labelled it the “Brexit Fishing Disaster”. The pompous Rees-Mogg view has infuriated many, including those who voted for Brexit in the belief that British fishermen would be better off outside of the EU. The EU fishermen may now be entitled to catch less fish in British waters but the trade deal, which sees us outside of the single market and customs union, has resulted in massively increased amounts of paperwork and delays at ports, in both directions. As a consequence, British fish prices have dropped dramatically, fish have had to go to waste and businesses, on both sides of the channel face ruin.
Tommy Sheppard said:
“Boats are confined to harbour, lorry loads of seafood destroyed, the industry losing £1million a day as firms go bust – all as a result of Brexit red tape imposed by this Government.”
Trade with the EU is vital to the fishing industry and the communities where fishing is a major source of employment and income. Now, truckloads of Scottish fish have been rejected since January 1 because new requirements for catch certificates, health checks and export declarations meant they had taken too long to arrive.
To get fresh produce to EU markets, logistics providers now have to summarize the load, giving commodity codes, product types, gross weight, the number of boxes and value, plus other details. Mistakes or missing documents can mean longer delays, hitting European importers that have also been hit by the increase in red tape. It is having a negative impact on companies across Europe who also export into the UK. One consequence is that some fishermen are taking their catches directly to ports in Denmark while businesses are looking for new suppliers.
Yet, in Parliament, fishing minister Victoria Prentis said she did not read the deal when it was published on Christmas Eve because she was “very busy organising the local Nativity trail” although she admitted, “things are tricky at the moment”.
UK food minister George Eustice insisted these were post-Brexit “teething issues”. This approach from ministers, who are meant to be responsible, is not going to help the fishermen and traders who enable the fish to get to market. Many logistics providers, now struggling to deliver goods in a timely manner, say the change to life outside the single market and customs union is drastic and that while delivery times can improve, it will now cost more and take longer to export. This increases the burden on everyone involved!
“The deal we have been dealt, in terms of the next five years has been absolutely atrocious. People like Michael Gove continue to get away with telling lies about how this is a great deal.”
Meanwhile, a Welsh shellfish wholesaler told BBC News that her lorry containing nearly £50,000 of lobster, prawns and crabs had been delayed for more than 30 hours on its way to Spain. You can’t sell stale fish!
In response, the government announced, on 19 January, a £23m compensation scheme to support fishing firms, after fish exporters held demonstrations outside government departments in central London, warning their livelihoods were under threat. They say we have set up £100 million to build new harbours and new opportunities. One trade group called the fund “welcome” but a “sticking plaster“.
That the Government have mislead fishermen and the public about the benefits of the agreement for the industry isn’t such a surprise. They and Boris Johnson have a track record on this sort of thing.
But while Rees-Moog haughtily claimed we have “got our fish back”, it’s perhaps more pertinent what Mike Park said about the present situation:
“It has been an absolute shambles in fairness.”
Rees-Mogg, please note: Fish stocks do not respect political boundaries. Many are mobile at some stage in their life. These fish not exclusive to the UK or to the EU or to the bordering Scandinavian states, but they are a shared resource.