UK fishermen will be hung out to dry by Brexit

by Quentin Peel | 15.11.2018

Spare a thought for the benighted coastal fishermen of the British isles. Their communities voted clearly in favour of Brexit, convinced that they had been ripped off for years by the EU Common Fisheries Policy, which required them to share the catch in UK waters with continental fishermen. “Bringing back control”, they were assured by Brexiters like Michael Gove and Nigel Farage, would bring an immediate revival in their livelihoods.

Now it looks as if, in the endgame of Brexit, they are going to be hung out to dry. Negotiations on fisheries have been postponed from the current withdrawal agreement to the end of the planned transition period. The big fishing nations of the EU have made it perfectly clear that there will have to be a trade-off: tariff free access for UK fish exports to the EU market in exchange for allowing EU boats to keep roughly the same quotas they enjoy in UK waters.

The problem lies as much at home in the UK as it does with the big fishing nations of the EU – Spain above all, plus France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark, all of whom rely heavily on the catch they get in EU waters.

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The problem in the UK is threefold. First, however romantic an image small fishermen may have in the national imagination, they are economically marginal, and a much smaller part of the fishing industry than fish processors. There were 4,000 businesses in the fishing industry in 2016, employing 24,000 people and contributing £1.4 billion to the UK economy. Together fishing and fish processing accounted for 0.12 % of all UK economic output. Fish processing employs 16,000 against just 8,000 in fishing and fish farming. And 70% of fish exports go to the EU market.

Second, UK policy – in defiance of official EU policy – has for years discriminated against small fishermen in favour of giant factory ships. Small coastal boats, which make up 77% of the English fleet, have the right to catch only 3% of the total English catch of fish such as cod, haddock, plaice and sole. Two-fifths of the entire Scottish catch by value, and 65% by tonnage (mostly herring and mackerel), was landed by 19 super-trawlers in 2016. Will a UK-controlled fisheries policy seriously change the rules of the game?

Third, in the desperate last minute haggling for a decent long-term trade deal, fishing access for EU trawlers will be a rare and useful bargaining chip for UK negotiators.

No wonder Scottish MPs, especially the Tories who won lots of pro-Brexit votes in fishing constituencies, are deeply worried by the deal done in Brussels. The EU nations have written into the deal the trade-off they want: continuing access to UK waters vs UK access to the EU fish market. The writing is already on the wall.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “UK fishermen will be hung out to dry by Brexit”

  • Well. Let’s face it. If you can’t really be bothered putting the work in and finding out what it is about your livelihood that makes you so unhappy that you then vote, at the insistence of known charlatans, to flounce out of the EU, and thereby fire a shotgun up your economic backside, one might say you did it all to yourself. Absolutely no sympathy here. And despite the romantic vision of fisherman, the British don’t actually eat all that much fish, so who are you selling it too? The EU, that’s who. Bonne chance mes amis!