Europe

Brexit deal branded ‘sell out’ after ‘shameful’ treatment of fishermen: ‘Worse off now!’

Brexit: Spain left dependent on Scotland after overfishing

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The Trade and Cooperation Agreement — which went live at 11pm on December 31, 2020, and is widely referred to as the Brexit deal — set out plans to fulfil the promises made during the Leave campaign. An estimated 92 percent of British fishing communities voted for Brexit, likely lured by promises of “reclaiming our seas” and turning Britain into an “independent coastal state” with higher quotas for fishermen already struggling in the face of European competition. 

Under the Brexit deal, a five-year period was set out, ending in 2026, during which the UK would gradually gain a greater share of the fish from its own waters. 

The quotas were due to be largely transferred to UK boats in 2021, and then staggered until 2026, after which annual negotiations will be held on how the catch is shared between the UK and EU.

The agreement said it served to overturn “inequity that British fishermen have faced for over four decades.”

However, the situation on the ground within fishing communities shows an industry even more stretched than before as diplomatic rows over licences and political hostility take their toll. 

Paul Trebilcock, manager at Ocean Fish, a 300-year-old Cornish fishing company, told the i: “Senior people from the Government came down here and made us promises.

“We had Michael Gove standing here on the harbour telling us we would have greater control of our seas, and a greater share of fish.

“Nothing has changed. We’re pretty much in the same position as we were before. Maybe we’re a little worse off.”

He said he felt that West Country fishermen were “sold a dream” by the Government.

The Brexit deal laid out that 15 percent of EU fishing quotas should be transferred to UK boats during 2021, and the species of fish should be shared between the UK and EU during the transition. 

But this does not appear to have come to fruition. 

Mr Trebilcock said: “We have been massively short-changed and it does seem like boats down here have been hung out to dry.

“The increase in quota share for various species has been marginal.”

Writing for The Scotsman, Simon Collins, executive officer of Shetland Fishermen’s Association, called the treatment of the British fishing industry since Brexit “shameful”.

He wrote: “It is impossible to understate the scale of the betrayal; incredibly, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement left parts of the industry worse off in terms of quota availability than they had been under the Common Fisheries Policy.”

Another cornerstone of Brexit fishing promises was that waters up to 12 miles from UK land would be reserved for British boats only.

But this also has yet to transpire, with just six miles of coastline reserved.

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Fisherman Anthony Hendy said: “The six-mile limit is a big problem for us because a lot of our fleet here is smaller boats which don’t go out in terrible weather – not usually anyway.

“The Belgians and French go out in any conditions because they have huge trawlers subsidised by the Government and it makes no difference to them. 

“It’s hard being sat here seeing them coming up within six miles from the coast getting all the fish. That should be ours. It’s not sustainable trawling the seas every day anyway.”

Speaking to reporters last year, Barrie Deas, chief executive of The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said: “It’s really quite hard to convey how sudden was the fishing industry’s fall from grace.

“The flags flying over our vessels for the last couple of years had a slogan which was ‘fishing — no sell out’ and that really spelt out our fears. 

“Those flags now seem both politically astute and prescient because that’s what’s happened.”

He said there had been changes to quotas for fish “but at the margins”.

He added: “In [a] sense, it’s a tale of woe, very far away from the sea of opportunity that some spoke about.”

Mr Deas said the Government needed to do more to support the industry ahead of 2026.

He said: “One of the big questions is what happens after 2026 and it’s clear that the EU is quietly confident that it has sufficient what it calls dissuasive powers to prevent the UK from fully asserting its rights.”

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