Sunday, 2 October 2016

Brexit: and what the UK's fishing industry wants

The fishing industry wants a new deal - but this will clearly not be a priority for the UK government:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and fishing
Futures Forum: Brexit: and life after the Common Fisheries Policy >>> >>> or: food sovereignty and the commons
Futures Forum: Brexit: and untangling UK and EU fisheries
Futures Forum: Brexit: and boosting coastal towns and fisheries

Nevertheless, the sector continues to push its case - as laid out in a piece in yesterday's Telegraph:

What the UK's fishing industry wants from Brexit

Landings of fish in the UK have more than halved since the 1970s, from 948,000 tonnes to 451,000 tonnes in 2014, while the number of registered vessels has dropped from 8,667 in 1996 to 6,383 in 2014, according to the Marine Management Organisation CREDIT: GETTY

Szu Ping Chan 1 OCTOBER 2016 • 

By the time dawn breaks behind the tall towers of Canary Wharf in London, home to dozens of banks and other financial institutions, Bill Thornton is already halfway through his day. A trader for 35 years, he is used to hard work and waking up in the early hours of the morning. But Thornton is not a banker. He doesn’t wear a suit or tie and there is not a briefcase in sight. His domain lies in the shadow of the big banks – in Billingsgate fish market.

At James Nash & Son, the Billingsgate wholesale fish merchant where Thornton works, you have to be up early to see the array of fish on display: cod from Peterhead, skate from Aberdeen and lemon sole from Newlyn. Most have travelled from trawler to market within 24 hours. Many here are celebrating the Brexit vote. The fishing industry was a focal point of the EU referendum campaign.

Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, has since said that the industry is a touchstone for Brexit. Leaving the EU means “getting our fishing waters back” – or we haven’t really left at all. Thornton, who voted for Brexit, has felt the impact of the EU’s common fisheries policy personally. “It decimated the fishing industry,” he says. “Our price of entry to the EU was giving up our fishing rights. Ted Heath sold us down the river.”

Brexiteer Bill Thornton has worked in the fishing and meat sector for more than three decades CREDIT: SZU PING CHAN

For Jeff Steadman, who helped his father run Chamberlain & Thelwell, another Billingsgate wholesale fish business, when he left school and has since taken over management of the concern, the EU never provided any benefits. Steadman imports a substantial share of the fish he sells, but insists that arguments that the UK is stronger inside the EU are “absolute rubbish”.

“It’s become too big and too hard to control,” he says. “We’ve been in it for 40 years, we’ve given it a good go, but there’s been no actual benefit.”

Steadman is unworried about higher import costs or the prospect of more paperwork. “The world’s a smaller place,” he says. “Things come from all around the world these days.”

Jeff Steadman, who also voted for Brexit is managing director of Chamberlain & Thelwell CREDIT: SZU PING CHAN

The decline of the industry has been steady but clear. The UK became a net importer of fish in 1984, a year after the Common Fisheries Policy and its quotas were introduced.

Landings of fish in the UK have more than halved since the 1970s, from 948,000 tonnes to 451,000 tonnes in 2014, while the number of registered vessels has dropped from 8,667 in 1996 to 6,383 in 2014, according to the Marine Management Organisation. Vets and private investigators each account for a bigger share of the economy than fishing and aquaculture, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In 2014, there were just under 12,000 fishermen in the UK, and fishing, excluding processing, contributed £426m to UK output. The wider industry remains a major employer in Scotland and old fishing towns such as Grimsby, which is better known today for its fish processing than landings.

Billingsgate fish market lies in the shadow of Canary Wharf's financial district in London CREDIT: SZU PING CHAN

Not everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. Mike Eglin, the managing director of James Nash, believes Britain will be poorer after Brexit.

“Everybody is looking at this country through rose-coloured spectacles, we’re not as good as we think we are,” he says. While Eglin describes the Common Fisheries Policy as the “worst piece of legislation ever written”, he says he voted to stay in the bloc.

Outside the Common Fisheries Policy, the UK could lay claim to a 200-nautical-mile fishing border, as enjoyed by countries such as Iceland. But Eglin believes this is wishful thinking: “There’s no way in a million years we’re ever going to get back what we had. If we’re going to put a fishing limit in around this coast, we’re going to have to build ships to police it. Where are we going to get the millions of pounds to do that?”

Reasons for optimism

FANTASYLAND. The huge rainbow-coloured sign is the first thing to greet visitors to Cleethorpes by train: not the most positive backdrop for an event on the pier where the fishing industry is discussing the next steps after the Brexit vote.

But Marcus Coleman, chief executive of Seafish, the government agency that represents the seafood industry, says there are plenty of reasons to be positive. For Coleman, there are five main issues: how fisheries are managed, trade tariffs, EU regulations, free movement of people, and grants.

“I made it my business to get to get around the country and I have encountered a lot of optimism,” he says. “The catching sector seems very upbeat, there’s a lot of investment being made in new vessels, fish stocks seem to be on the rise, and prices are looking good. So there are signs of recovery.”

Dale Rodmell, assistant chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, says Brexit is an opportunity to “realign” quotas and tip the balance back in favour of UK fishermen, many of whom believe Britain gave up too much when quotas were carved out in the 1980s. As a result, Rodmell says, the majority of cod in the English Channel is now scooped up by French trawlers. Others insists that sharing fishing stocks, the way countries such as Norway have, is inevitable.

David Kleimann , a researcher of EU and international trade policy at the European University Institute, says laying claim to a 200-mile limit would “send the UK back to the Middle Ages” in terms of its fishing policy. “Fish migrate in waters shared with EU member states, so co-ordination is necessary to counter the depletion of stocks,” he says. “Norway’s bilateral quota deal with the EU is the best the UK can hope for, from a demandeur [international treaty] perspective.”

Hopes that the UK could sell more of what it catches outside the EU are more promising. While France is the UK’s biggest export market, the US is in second. It also has a taste for Britain’s more expensive fish. Exports in the last financial year were at an average of £5.29 per kg to the US and £7.28 per kg to South Korea, against £4.26 to France and £0.86 to the Netherlands. While the EU is by far the UK’s biggest export market, demand from China and Nigeria is growing. There is also the issue of unwanted Brussels diktats.

Outside the EU, the UK would not be obliged to implement EU directives, and could negotiate derogations of acts or exemptions even if it wanted closer trade ties. Simon Dwyer, managing director at Seafox Management Consultants, based in Grimsby, says this is one of the most positive outcomes of Brexit. He cites the upcoming EU port services regulation, which Brussels claims will open up competition and lift standards by forcing providers to apply for authorisation from government for certain services.

Critics argue the move could result in a lack of investment and distort prices for the UK’s fully privatised port sector. “It may have stopped us setting our own pricing for cargo handling, put jobs at risk and curb investment, so hopefully it won’t leave our hands tied now,” Dwyer says.

While Brexit may free the UK from some red tape, there is potentially much more around the corner. Dwyer says a pessimistic scenario could drown the industry in so much paperwork that ships would have to queue in a system similar to Operation Stack, used in Kent to handle congestion involving the Channel Tunnel, as they wait to dock.

Paperwork takes time, and time is money: “Most of us throughout Europe are used to a day-one collection and a day two or three delivery,” Dwyer says. “When I first started out, we had to fill in transit documents, customs documents, we had goods sat on the quayside. We experienced a lot of delays, and that impacted on working capital.”

Nigel Edwards, technical director at Icelandic Seachill, one of the largest chilled seafood processors in the UK, and owner of the Saucy Fish Co brand, urges policymakers to fight for free trade in Europe or face the simple fact that consumers will have to pay more for their products. The company, which turns over £260m a year and employs 1,400 people in the UK, is also calling for more optimal regulation, but not a massive divergence. “We have to maintain mutual recognition of standards and if we set up completely different food standards, it would create a massively complex process to go through,” Edwards says.

There is also the issue of where future funding for the industry will come from. Just over €243m (£210m) in grants was due to be pumped into the sector from Brussels between 2014 and 2020. Rodmell, at the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, wants the UK Government to keep paying this cash after Brexit.

However, Andrew Oliver, a partner at the law firm Andrew Jackson Solicitors of Hull and Grimsby who specialises in fisheries law, says policymakers may have other ideas. “It may not be at the top of the agenda when there’s a huge farming lobby out there too,” he says. “I’m not sure how strong fishing is going to be when it comes to the final showdown.”

Others remain hopeful. Edwards, at Icelandic Seachill, believes the UK can take advantage of a move towards healthy eating. “There is global demand for healthy, nutritious seafood, as long as it comes from sustainable sources,” he says. “We have that right here. We can build markets not just in the UK but elsewhere.

But we have to help the Government to maximise the opportunities from the fish processing sector as a whole. The opportunities are huge for the UK economy.”

What the UK's fishing industry wants from Brexit - Telegraph

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