PM has sacrificed fishing to secure trade deal, say industry leaders

Dave Higgens, Rod Minchin and Lucinda Cameron, PA
·6-min read

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sacrificed the fishing industry in a drive to secure a trade deal with the EU, fishing organisations have said.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said there will be “frustration and anger” across the industry about the outcome of the negotiations.

Sporting a fish-themed tie, Mr Johnson told the Government press conference: “For the first time since 1973 we will be an independent coastal state with full control of our waters.”

But Mr Deas told the PA news agency: “In the end it was clear that Boris Johnson wanted an overall trade deal and was willing to sacrifice fishing.”

He said: “The broad feeling is that the UK has made significant concessions on fish in order to secure a trade deal.

“I think the industry will be extremely disappointed.

“We have secured increases in quota from the EU but they don’t come anywhere close to what our entitlement is in international law.

“So I think there will be frustration and anger across the industry about that.”

Mr Deas said he thought the failure to secure a 12-mile exclusion zone to protect inshore fisheries for at least five years is “going to be particularly contentious”.

He said it was “understandable” that “the EU wanted to hold on to the advantages it has held for 40 years”.

The Prime Minister told the press conference that the UK’s share of fish in home waters will rise “substantially” from roughly half to closer to two-thirds in five-and-a-half years’ time “after which there is no theoretical limits beyond those placed by science or conservation on the quantity of our own fish that we can fish in our waters”.

Mr Johnson accepted that the UK had given ground on access to fishing waters, saying that the EU began wanting a transition period of 14 years while the UK wanted three years.

The Prime Minister said the five-year transition was a key compromise.

He said: “I think that was a reasonable transition period and I can assure great fish fanatics in this country that we will as a result of this deal be able to catch and eat quite prodigious quantities of extra fish.”

The seafood sector said it was relieved a tariff-free deal has been agreed.

Seafish – the public body which supports the industry – welcomed the Brexit deal if it makes trade flows easier but said uncertainty remains on fishing rights.

Director of operations Aoife Martin said 75% of UK seafood exports went to the EU in 2019, so a trade deal was important for the future of the sector.

Ms Martin said: “Over the last four years, we have supported the seafood industry to prepare for a no-deal outcome.

“This was likely to make trade difficult and costly so we’re glad to see a deal that should make trade flow easier.”

Jim Portus, chief executive of the South West Fish Producers Organisation, described the announcements by Mr Johnson and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen as “fairly sketchy and short on detail”.

“They are trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear really,” he said.

Mr Portus said Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen appeared to contradict each other, saying: “I also suspect the EU will end up being happier than the UK will.

“That would be the acid test for me. If the Europeans are celebrating, then we should be looking at the Prime Minister saying why are they celebrating.

“The one thing missing from this was about access to the 12-mile limit. If the UK is a genuinely sovereign independent coastal state then we would not grant access to our 12-mile limit automatically.”

Mr Portus said it was good for fish traders that they will be able to trade without tariffs and without quotas, adding: “But at what cost?”

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said that Brexit means the sector now faces the reality of “lots more red tape, bureaucracy and paperwork” and warned that delays in getting fish to European markets will have “serious consequences” for perishable products.

SSPO chief executive Tavish Scott said: “We are pleased the negotiators have at last secured a deal. This will alleviate some of the serious problems that would come from a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

“But we still have concerns. The disruption at the Channel right now is hitting our members’ ability to export. 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 which come with Brexit.”

Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said that having a deal on the table at long last comes as a “welcome relief” to the Scottish seafood sector, which relies heavily on exports and that tariff-free trade is a “huge benefit”.

She said: “However, this is a two-sided deal. Over the last few days, we’ve seen the utter chaos that disruption at the Border causes.”

Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said that while the full details of the Fisheries Agreement reached between the UK and the EU had yet to emerge, on the surface it did not appear to deliver on the industry’s aspirations.

Ms Macdonald said: “What has been outlined so far is that full access will be granted to EU vessels for effectively six years from January.

“Over the same timescale the increase in quota shares for UK vessels will be 25%.

“The Government has not yet provided the full text of the agreement or how this increase will apply to particular species, so it is very difficult to make a detailed assessment of the impact on our industry.

“However, 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. We expect to be able to study the detail in the coming days and will issue a further statement when we have been able to do so.”