View: End of the Line for Distant-Waters Fishing?04 January 2021
Lack of fisheries deals with Norway, Greenland, Faroes will scupper the fleet
UK Fisheries freezer trawler Kirkella in happier times, steaming under Tower Bridge on April 22, 2019
The EU deal is done, but for English distant-waters fishing the future is anything but certain. Our state-of-the-art freezer trawler Kirkella is tied up in Hull. Right now, we’re not supporting jobs upstream or downstream. We’re not generating wealth in the form of inward investment and UK taxes. We’re not bringing home British cod and haddock for our national dish.
Will the government do the deals needed to keep our crews at work in 2021? Does it intend to? As of now we don’t know when, or even if, we will be able to put to fish off Norway, our main fishing ground for decades.
We’ve been telling the same story for more than two years, well before Kirkella was christened at Greenwich in 2019. But there is little sign the UK government has listened. Without individual bilateral deals on quotas with Greenland, the Faroes and especially Norway, there is no long-term viable distant-waters fishing industry in the UK from January 1. We may be able to scrape by for a few weeks fishing off Svalbard, but that alone can’t keep the industry afloat. And as far as we can tell we’re the only business in the UK fishing industry whose very existence has been put in jeopardy by such avoidable government inaction.
The longer this situation persists, the harder it will be to put it right. If it continues, and we desperately hope that it doesn’t, our crews will have to find work in other industries – if they can. Our European owners, who have invested £120m over the past decade in rescuing distant waters fishing, will no longer want to sit by and watch their assets depreciate. The additional £60–100m they planned to invest in our industry will find a grateful home elsewhere.
So much for all the grand post-Brexit promises of ‘prodigious amounts of fish’ and ‘seas of opportunity’.
What is most frustrating is that all the government needs to do is agree with Norway (and Greenland and the Faroes) that we can continue fishing on existing terms – or, now that the EU is out of the way, to make better bilateral deals. Imagine a £50m factory on shore that wasn’t able to work just because the government had failed to hold a negotiation that, compared with the EU deal, will be the simplest imaginable; one that we have been asking it to have for years.
We know our partners are ready to talk. What is more, the UK has never before been in such a strong position because of the importance of its markets to our trading and fisheries partners. It’s time to regain some of the distant fishing opportunities we lost in the 1980s, and the UK government just has to get on with it so we can do our jobs.
The alternative – and one that gets closer for every day that goes by – is a dismal end to English distant waters fishing, an industry that has helped nourish our nation for centuries.
Yes, that would be outcome of all those plans to ‘take back control’. What truly sovereign government would sit back and allow this to happen to its own fishers?