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Belgian fishermen fear Brexit fish fight fallout

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Belgian fishermen fear Brexit fish fight fallout
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It has become a symbol of Brexit and now fish are at the centre of the negotiations between the UK and the EU about their future relationship. London wants to guarantee priority access to national waters for British vessels, while the EU is demanding mutual access to markets and seas.

It is 6 am and vessels have returned to the Belgian port of Ostend loaded with fish that will be sold at auction.

It's a routine that takes place three times per week.

Three-quarters of the fish sold here have been caught in British waters.

The area around the UK coastline contains more fish than those of the North Sea and many Belgian fishermen hope than after Brexit they’ll keep on having a good catch.

Bruno Decordiar spends 60% of his time fishing sole in British waters. He’s worried that Brexit could harm his activity.

“We are often at English ports and when we speak with British fishermen they tell us that we take all their fish," he said. "If they close the waters I'm sure we'll lose half of our income.”

EU rules allocate quotas to member states for fish species. At the moment EU boats are allowed to take 60% of their landing in seas around the UK.

A no-deal on fish after Brexit would increase competition between Europeans.

"It will mean that the whole fleet of Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Ireland will fish in the coast close to Europe," explains Jan Buisseret, commercial manager at Ostend auction.

"But there is no room for everyone. If we have rights to fish in British areas, the Brits will have the rights to sell their products here in Europe because they do not have fleets, they do not have the same consumption of fish as we have."

Most of the fish landed by British fishermen is sold to the EU. Reaching a fishing deal will be crucial to completing trade negotiations between the EU and the UK.

French MEP Pierre Karleskind has a warning for British PM Boris Johnson.

“Let's not forget that if there is no fishing agreement, there will be no global trade agreement. As long as he makes things difficult on fishing, we will be taught on trade and therefore English companies won’t be able to export that easily and there is going to be a problem for them."

However, the timetable is tight as the EU would like to reach a deal by July in order to move forward on trade talks.

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