The UK’s fishing sector will face immediate hardship and long-lasting damage under the new European Union deal, industry leaders and boat owners have claimed.
There is anger that “marginal” gains on the share of fish the UK fleet will be allowed to catch may be outweighed by the end of the system of “quota swapping”, which has until now enabled deals to be made between British boats and their counterparts from mainland Europe.
Many fishers, especially those on the south coast of England, are also furious that EU boats will be able to work up to just six miles off the British coast.
The Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, said on Monday the agreement the UK had struck with the EU was the “best possible deal” for the fishing industry as a whole.
Gove also said a “major funding package” would be announced for the sector in the “very near future” to help it take full advantage of Brexit.
Writing in the Scotsman, Gove argued that at present British fishers were entitled to around half the fish in the country’s waters but by 2026 this would rise to two-thirds.
But the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) claimed the gains were marginal. Speaking after Gove’s remarks, the NFFO’s chief executive, Barrie Deas, said there was a growing feeling of disappointment and frustration in the industry.
He said: “There have been some marginal changes on the quota shares but we’re tied back into an arrangement that gives access to the EU fleet to our waters up to the six-mile limit. We thought an exclusive 12-mile limit was an absolute red line for the UK. That hasn’t held.”
The NFFO said that for now the UK’s share of some stocks was only increasing slightly – 10% to 20% for Celtic Sea haddock, for example, while North Sea saithe (coley) was rising from 23% to 26%.
Andrew Locker, the director of the family-run business Lockers Trawlers, which operates two fishing boats out of Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, said 2021 was going to be challenging for many who worked on the North Sea because the system of quota swapping was being lost.
“I don’t know how the hell we’re going to get through 2021,” he said. “We used to swap quota we didn’t want with quota the French or Germans didn’t want and that enabled us to put together an annual fishing plan.
“This year we’re going to be woefully short of the amount of saithe, hake and cod we can catch. I’m angry, disappointed and betrayed.”
Elspeth Macdonald, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said she did not believe the deal delivered what had been promised.
She said: “The principles that the government said it supported – control over access, quota shares based on zonal attachment, annual negotiations – do not appear to be central to the agreement. After all the promises given to the industry, that is hugely disappointing.”
There is also concern about export of fish from the UK to mainland Europe. Tavish Scott, the chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, said: “Brexit means the Scottish salmon sector now face the reality of lots more red tape, bureaucracy and paperwork which are the reality of the extra trade barriers.”
Irish fishing groups condemned the Brexit deal as a grave setback. “The deal is a really bad fish deal for Ireland,” Seán O’Donoghue, the chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, one of the industry’s biggest groups, said.
He claimed the terms looked “even worse” than first appeared last week when the organisation issued a blistering condemnation of the deal’s impact, especially on mackerel fishing.
The Irish taoiseach, Micheál Martin, met representatives of fishing organisations on Monday afternoon. Martin acknowledged the severe impact that the outcome of the Brexit negotiations would have on the fishing industry in Ireland and said a “comprehensive plan” would be developed to address their concerns.