Council leader fights for fishing industry

Over-promised and under-delivered; that’s the reality of the new fishing trade agreement with the EU says Councillor Tudor Evans OBE and the fishermen of Plymouth. 

The Leader of Plymouth City Council has written a letter to George Eustice MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to express his disappointment at the trade agreement on fishing struck with the EU.

He said: “Plymouth is not only a major fishing port but also a regional hub for the South West industry.  All around the coast fishing fleets located in harbours that no longer have auctions and merchant bases to support them or sales of their fish and rely on Plymouth trawler agents to do so.

“This is an industry not just valued for its economic contribution to our city, but its significance to our heritage. That is why I, along with the industry as a whole, are enormously disappointed by what has been delivered in this ‘oven ready’ Brexit deal.

“Fishing was highlighted as a key example of the EU stifling British industry. We were told that outside of the EU people working in the fishing industry would prosper, with exclusive access to our territorial waters and a much fairer share of the fish that’s in it. This trade deal does not achieve any of the promises that were made. Foreign vessels will still have access to UK territorial water and ironically there will be far more red tape for our exporters to deal with.

“Somehow this Brexit deal has managed to deliver all the bad bits and none of the good bits.”

The Council leader called for a number of measures to support the industry:

  • A substantial and targeted funding package - Ministers announced £100m will be made available for ‘modernising trawlers and fish processing’ but more substantial funds will be needed as over 75 per cent of the English fleet is over 20-years-old. Port infrastructure will also need updating. In Plymouth the Council is working with the industry and the port authority to develop proposals for a modern market and fish quay fit for the 21st Century, which would help to drive efficiencies for the whole supply chain.
  • A decommissioning scheme - The Government is looking to strengthen marine conservation measures and further restrict some fishing activities. While we support measures to protect the marine environment, the impact on some fishermen whose traditional grounds would be closed to them should be recognised. Reducing the size of the fleet would help avoid displacement problems and gear conflicts, improve the profitability of remaining businesses and assist the Government to deliver its objective of a modern, sustainable and profitable fleet. Fishermen in Plymouth and elsewhere, in particular those with boats under 10 metres, understand their local fishing grounds will not be protected from EU access. They also understand they are unlikely to receive any big windfalls of quotas they were expecting. As a result they are asking for serious consideration of an urgent decommissioning scheme.
  • Distribution of quota - The quota system should be more transparent and support a diverse fleet. Allocations should take into account the effects on the entire supply chain, with a direct link between quota allocation and benefits to coastal communities. Given the hardships experienced by the industry here, we ask that priority is given to assisting the south west industry.
  • Safety and wellbeing of fishermen - Improved rest and social facilities for fishermen, greater hands-on business support and means of enhancing the earnings of fishermen.
  • A new model of community engagement - We want a genuine collaborative approach that sees DEFRA and its agencies working with the Council and the LEP alongside the local fishing industry. We in Plymouth stand ready to meet this challenge.
  • Improve the operation of regulatory processes - An urgent need for more effective liaison and communication on regulatory systems governing exports to the EU. Problems have arisen which go beyond expected teething difficulties.

He added: “This is not the time for recrimination but a time for central and local government to roll up their sleeves and fix these bottlenecks. It is not important at this stage if the problems are user error or system error, the knock on effects of export stalling means more fish is left on the market for the UK trade to attempt to sell in the middle of a pandemic with the hospitality trade closed down.

“Our fishing fleets are indeed facing the perfect storm. Brexit should be used as an opportunity to strengthen this industry in cities like ours.  Fishing is more than just work in Plymouth, it’s in our blood and this council will continue to fight for it.”

A copy of the letter is also being sent to the Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.