View: One Easy Choice for our new PMSir Barney White-Spunner, Chair of UK Fisheries Advisory Board 29 August 2022
There will, I am sure, be a great many issues deserving the new Prime Minister’s attention when she (or he) arrives at No. 10 next week. All of us are painfully aware of the cost of living crisis, soaring energy prices, the dangerous situation in Ukraine and much, much more besides.
While the crisis facing the UK’s distant waters fishing fleet does not rank alongside these in terms of overall importance, it is just as urgent and, unlike almost everything else that the new administration will immediately have to face, there is a simple and quick solution.
For more than three years, we at UK Fisheries have, on behalf of the crews that we represent and their families, been pushing Defra and DIT for something very simple indeed, the restoration of the whitefish quotas, off the coast of Norway and in and around the Barents sea, that until 2019 we used to harvest for the good of the British economy.
Our state-of-the-art freezer trawler Kirkella is, in fact, the only remaining UK vessel regularly operating in these waters. She is the sole trawler supplying British-caught Arctic cod and haddock to chippies up and down the country. But she has just half the fishing opportunities she had in 2019, and the actions (or inactions) of our government are directly to blame.
We’re not asking for anything new. In 2019 we fished the best part of 15,000 tonnes off the coasts of Norway and Svalbard, now we have just half that - for lack of political resolve and proper negotiation as should befit an independent coastal state. Obviously, this is not a viable position in the long term. But, incomprehensibly, the survival of our industry has proved of little or no interest to those in whose gift it is to ensure it.
Time and again we have stated our case: the economic case, that we provide much-needed jobs and investment in the north-east; the industrial case, that we are now the last remaining representatives of an industry that has fed our country for centuries, and that if we fail it will be gone for good; and the food security case, that if we are unable to carry on fishing for Britain, then the UK will simply need to import more whitefish from Norway, Iceland, or even Russia.
But our pleas for survival have fallen on deaf ears, or rather, they have been heard but not listened to. Defra has quite simply ceased responding to our arguments in any meaningful sense, and recent communications are something of which Sir Humphrey Appleby would be proud.
We are a proudly British company. Kirkella’s home port is Hull, our headquarters are yards from the Humber, we pay all our taxes in the UK and our crews are overwhelmingly British. But the Fisheries Minister and Secretary of State have time and again pointed to the fact that our shareholders are Dutch and Icelandic as a reason for depriving our British crews of their livelihood. Frankly, we have begun to wonder if they really understand how foreign investment works, or how Honda, Tata, or any of the other great investors in British industry would react to the same argument.
Well, we may have new faces at Defra and DIT in the near future. If we do, then perhaps they will be more responsive and sympathetic to our simple ask: use the UK’s trade muscle as an independent coastal state to return our quotas with Norway, Greenland and other traditional partners to what they recently were – or even better. This would be a quick and simple win for a proud British industry and be a great help to Britain’s fish & chip shops who are struggling to find supplies of cod at sensible prices. Let’s face it, there are few such easy wins for a British government that cost almost nothing.
And if the existing team stay on in Westminster and Whitehall, well, of course we wish them well. But our ask is the same. Please, finally, listen to the simplicity and common sense in what we say. Deliver that ‘sea of opportunity’, and help us preserve jobs, investment and an industry that is, for the time being at least, still an important part of our national identity and culture.
For more information contact Trevor Datson