View: An EU deal is just the start for distant-waters fishing06 December 2020
UK must secure deal with Norway to save our fleet
This week, Kirkella, the pride of the UK’s distant waters fishing fleet, may be mooring at Hull for the last time. Only government action can save the last remnants of a proud British industry that has helped feed our nation for centuries.
UK Fisheries freezer trawler Kirkella arriving at Hull on Sunday, December 6, 2020
These are fascinating and critical times. Even now the UK Government may be signing a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. Of course, we wish Lord Frost and his team the best of luck in securing a good deal for Britain, but whatever emerges from these talks – if indeed anything does – one thing at least is clear. For distant-waters fishing, this is far from ‘job done’.
For the UK distant-waters fleet and the hundreds of families whose livelihoods depend in it, these talks are only the start of a process that will decide whether there will be any distant-waters fishing from the UK on January 1, or indeed ever again. This is not rhetoric: the truth is as simple as that.
Despite the recently signed fisheries framework agreement with Norway, there is currently no legal basis for UK Fisheries’ distant-water vessels to fish cod in the Norwegian Economic Zone (NEZ) from the end of this year (nor off Greenland, the Faroes, Iceland or Svalbard) as it has done for decades. It is therefore absolutely incumbent upon the UK Government to secure this basis.
But here’s the good news: the door is wide open to such a deal – in fact, sources close to the Norwegian government and the fishing industry in Norway have suggested to us that this is precisely what Norway is expecting. But we have to ask.
Any deal we negotiate with the EU on fisheries should lead to the EU relinquishing those fishing rights in third-country waters which are currently allocated to the UK. Then, Norway will be able to directly re-offer us the quotas for the Arctic cod that we currently catch in the NEZ – as they would then be bound to do under international law.
Meanwhile, there will remain significant Norwegian fishing activity in the UK North Sea EEZ. We can use Norwegian vessels’ continued access to ‘pay’ for the quantities we fish, for instance, of Arctic cod in the NEZ. This would be a fair, balanced and logical exchange. In fact, a more favourable balance could be struck in the UK’s favour while retaining the valuable Arctic cod resource that the UK distant waters fleet depends on.
Not only that, tariff-free imports to the UK on all codfish products are essential to the survival of what is left of the fish processing industry in North Norway. So even if access to resources and access to markets are not officially coupled by Norway or by the UK, our skilful negotiators must be encouraged to take their customary global view; which boils down to the mantra “everything depends on everything else”. There is every indication that whatever its starting point, Norway would be content to allow us to continue fishing in the NEZ in return for zero tariffs on codfish exports into the UK.
Whether or not we reach a deal with the EU, the UK Government has an “open goal” in front of it for a mutually beneficial arrangement with Norway (and similarly with Greenland, Iceland and the Faroes). Our negotiators can land this deal – they just need the politicians to let them.
Crew members disembark from the freezer trawler Kirkella at Hull on Sunday, December 6, 2020, after what may be the final fishing trip for the UK’s distant-waters fishing industry.