UK fishermen face new uncertainties over post-Brexit trade deal

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By Luke Hanrahan
British fishermen face uncertainty from new Brexit trade agreement.
British fishermen face uncertainty from new Brexit trade agreement.   -   Copyright  Luke Hanrahan/Euronews

One major sticking point during months of post-Brexit trade negotiations was the issue of EU access to UK fishing waters. In the end, London signed off on a deal that returns just 25 per cent of the European quota to British fishermen. And that's left many in the dark about what to expect come January. 

The fishing town of Brixham, Devon, on England's southern coast is a perfect example of somewhere caught in the net of the fisheries debate.

Driver and his son Simon come from a long line of Devon fishermen. 

They get a good haul of Atlantic seabass. But more than half of the fish that has been caught this morning won’t be finding it’s way to anyone's plate.

“If you’ve got 20, 30, 40 boxes of seabass that’s perfectly sellable, that’s dead that you have to throw back. That’s the heart destroying thing about it,” says Dave Driver, skipper of the Girl Debra fishing boat.

On Brexit, Driver and Simon disagree with their Cornish crew mate, Max – a Remainer – who sees few positives for fishing post-Brexit.

“The thing that annoys me, a lot of the issues that we’re seeing now weren’t portrayed to the general public at the time of the vote. Some of the people who voted for Brexit perhaps didn’t see this coming," Max told Euronews.

Fishing is a cornerstone for the people of Brixham in Devon. Dave – now 60 – has seen this sector shrink - employing half the number of people it did in 1978.

He blames EU membership for this decline:

“They have the lion's share of our waters. To have 75 per cent? My cod quota this month is 30 kilos – that’s one box. The French quota is probably a tonne a month. We’re having to throw fish back –we would rather bring that fish in and even give it away to charity. But we’re not allowed to."

EU-based fleets catch up to eight times as many fish in UK waters as British fishermen do in EU waters, according to UK government data. Which is why Brexit made sense for so many British seaside towns.

But for British fishing there’s a catch…

Seventy per cent of everything that’s caught and sold at the Brixham fish market is bought by Europeans.

“We’re excited about it," says fishmonger James Walsh. "About having the freedom to roam our own waters. And to not be threatened by the EU monarchs over there and the bureaucrats. We’re trying to reclaim what’s ours.”

The deal that’s been struck means the value of fish caught by the EU in UK waters will be cut by a quarter.

The cut will be phased in over a transition period lasting five and a half years. After that, the UK will fully control access to its waters and could make deeper cuts if it decides to exclude EU fishing boats.

Drew Mcleod is a skipper who’s concerned, conscious that his European trade partners could be alienated by the new arrangement and possibly less inclined to want to buy British fish:

“I think there will be quite a bit of disruption nobody really foresaw how hard it would be to strike a deal with the rest of Europe

Although many in Brixham are firmly in favour of leaving the EU, there’ll be no Brexit celebrations on New Year's Eve.

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