UK fishing industry reports Brexit woes

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Brexit was welcomed by many in the UK fishing industry, but overwhelmingly it is now a cause for anger and disappointment. So says a report from the House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Fisheries, which sets out the results of a survey of the sector.

As well as the issue of quotas for wild-catch fisheries, the report finds, the UK’s seafood industry has been struggling with increased paperwork for exports to the European Union and labour shortages following new restrictions on recruiting staff from the EU.

In winter 2021, the APPG on Fisheries released a survey to collate experiences of Brexit as reported by members of the fishing industry. Responses revealed significant and shared concerns around financial losses and the long-term viability of individual businesses, fishing fleets, and other parts of the industry including processors and transporters.

Exporters have routinely struggled to get their shipments through the border, resulting in loss of income or, in extreme cases, entire markets, while small-scale fishers have felt unable to compete with larger EU vessels which have retained some access to UK waters until at least 2026.

One respondent reported, for example, that “sales to the EU have fallen by 65-70% on molluscs and at least 60% on live crustaceans and remaining sales have been to wholesalers instead of bespoke, smaller, more profitable merchants and retailers. The economics of these [formerly] more profitable smaller sales have been destroyed by costs such as health certification, customs checks, and VAT agents’ fees”.

All exporters experienced delays due to increased quantities of paperwork, which had a knock-on effect on processing times. One respondent shared their view that nearly all lorries entering the EU from the UK were being physically checked at Border Control Posts (BCPs), in comparison to the spot checks they perceived taking place on shipments from countries such as New Zealand.

As previously reported in Fish Farmer, the EU’s import rules – which exclude most of the UK’s live bivalve shellfish – have had a devastating effect on farmed and wild-caught shellfish producers.

Fishing businesses have also reported that the agreement finally reached with the EU on fishing quotas has left the industry no better off than when the UK was still a member state.

A number of respondents also noted that both the quota auction system and the new challenges for exports to the EU disproportionately impacted on smaller producers, who were less able to deal with them than the larger players were.

A summary of recommendations from respondents in the survey included:

  • Ensuring quotas are distributed and managed more fairly.
  • Further restricting non-UK fishing fleet access to UK waters, sooner than 2026.
  • Ensuring effective and inclusive management of domestic stocks.
  • Working with the EU to free up trade, and remove regulatory and financial barriers
  • Implementing more restrictions on access to UK waters for non-UK fishing fleets
  • Investing in infrastructure and new markets, at home and abroad.

Alistair Carmichael MP, Vice Chair of the APPG, said: “Having raised the myriad challenges faced by fishermen and the wider seafood industry numerous times with the government in the past two years, the work of the APPG has been vital in gathering evidence across the sector.

“This timely report provides a direct insight into the unique circumstances our fishing industry has faced as a result of new trading conditions, and will be a crucial resource for those in Parliament and government aiming to support the sector.”

The report was co-funded by the Seafarers’ Charity and the Fisheries Charitable Trust, part of The Fishmongers’ Company.

Tina Barnes, Head of Impact at The Seafarers’ Charity, said: “This report shines a light on what is needed from policy to help support the UK’s fishermen, who have suffered many negative impacts to their livelihoods as a result of Brexit.

“Paying heed to the recommendations from industry members themselves would help ensure they get the assistance they need.”

Alistair Carmichael concluded: “Based on the correspondence I received personally and the accounts contained in this report, it is clear that more and better engagement is needed, and pragmatic, serious efforts to support the fishing industry are required from ministers in order to ensure that coastal communities can continue to thrive into the future.”

Alistair Carmichael MP