Why I am still an unrepentant Leaver

OK, as a Brexiteer I accept this is all my fault. I mean, the chaos for exporters and difficulty getting into Europe. But seriously, was no one expecting this? Hands up all those who weren’t expecting border difficulties as soon as Brexit occurred.
What would be more interesting is to ask those who did nothing while waiting for it to happen to hold their hands up. We are business people and farmers, and our job is to predict what’s going to affect our business. So I guess I wouldn’t get too many hands up on that last question.
Detaching a country from a monolith like the EU is a long and complicated process, and inevitably there will be short term difficulties until the new systems have bedded in. Especially so when a negotiation goes right down to the wire. My Remainer friends often cite the difficulty of separating with the EU to argue that Brexit would be too complex, but honestly that just doesn’t hold water. If we had stayed in, it would have become even harder to separate. It made more sense to get out while it was still possible, and we have.
I am no longer an executive in this industry but I do have a small beef and sheep farm in Orkney. I made sure that all of my stock were sold before November and, perhaps surprisingly, got rather good prices.
I wonder why no one else was selling and making sure that they had no stock for sale for the first months of 2021.
Fish have to sell 12 months of the year but January and February are hardly our largest selling months. Maybe the hoo-ha in the media is more about things being less than perfect rather than about significant damage being done.
Several articles have imputed that Scotland’s seafood industry will be permanently damaged by this hiatus. But in a world with fast declining fish stocks and continuing high consumption levels – albeit not in Britain – is it possible to believe that anyone with fish to sell will have no market, ever?
Therein lies a very important point. Dr Martin Jaffa regularly raises, in this publication, the point of trying to get the UK public to eat more fish and I heartily agree that this would be a good thing. So how come in the run up to Brexit, our industry didn’t spend a huge amount of money on trying to increase the domestic consumption levels of seafood?
Many people believe that the British people are hidebound in their attitude to seafood consumption but therein lies the problem. There are more people who believe that something cannot be done than those who believe it can.
Our industry is no stranger to a competing industry spending huge amounts to discredit us. What I find so difficult to accept is that aquaculture, which has been going through a fairly profitable period, does not see the value in getting its act together over consumption of fish.
As Dr Jaffa showed last month (“Think outside the box”, Fish Farmer January 2021), we aren’t touching the public in any meaningful way. So let me spell it out more clearly.
Adverts using celebrities, saying you should eat fish, simply won’t work. Those who won’t eat fish don’t watch them. We need to get close to the young and work closely with educational facilities. The links between omega 3 and brain health are well-documented so the two things are linked. I also don’t mean that we should tell everyone in every form of education how good fish is for you. We need to go in and show them. Why not go to universities and have an open barbeque, in the summer of course? Why not talk to the relevant minister about fish cookery demonstrations at the local schools? Why not supply free salmon to schools once a month or once a year if you’re worried about the expense?
I am sure there are those who will argue that the above is avoiding the issue, and I should atone for the consequences of voting for Brexit. Maybe that will come, but it’s too early yet. There have been plenty of times during my career when the EU threw a spanner in the works and I and my team had to deal with those consequences. Nobody suggested we should leave the EU every time they did something idiotic or disruptive.
There will be bad times, there will be good times. As I predicted more than four years ago, anyone who thinks this is going to be easy is dreaming. On the other hand, if we position our industry right and really commit to our markets, who knows how high we can fly?


Keep up with us

Posted in
Fish Farmer February 2024 cover, net pens in winter with snow

The February 2024 issue of Fish Farmer is out now online