Fishing for answers – fact and fiction

Q. What is the importance of our distant waters fishing fleet?

A. The British fleet provides jobs, training, tax revenues and around 10% of all the cod and haddock for the nation’s fish & chip shops. That's why we need to put pressure on the government to maintain the fleet’s right to catch fish in foreign waters.

Q. Should we keep UK waters for UK fishermen post-Brexit?

A. We don’t currently have enough British fishermen to harvest all the fish that we have in our waters. It’s possible that we could rebuild our industry, but it might take a decade or more of massive investment in the fleet and fishermen. It may be that Brexit does create a more attractive market in which vessel operators are encouraged to invest, but in the meantime we need to ensure the continued smooth operation of the industry and the supply of fish to consumers in the short and medium term.

Q. What about UK control for UK waters?

A. Absolutely. EU quotas for UK fisheries could be redistributed to UK fishermen in the first instance and the rest (since we don’t have the capacity to fish them ourselves) could be passed on to others by negotiation.

Q. Should we sever the link between trade agreements and quotas/access?

A. The fact is that UK consumers love fish that is caught outside our own waters – like the haddock and cod that come from 1,500 miles away in the Barents Sea. On the other hand, the fish and shellfish that British fishermen catch in our own waters are mainly exported to overseas markets – mostly the EU, which loves our langoustine and lobster. So there is a symmetry, and for the sake of the small fishermen who are the main suppliers to these important export markets we need both quotas and access. If we were unable to sell into the EU (or heavy tariffs were to price UK fish out of the EU market) then we would have to change our eating habits dramatically. And we would have to import almost all of our favourite fish – cod and haddock.

Q. But surely we would be free to fish cod and haddock in our own waters?

A. Our distant waters fleet doesn’t spend days on end steaming up to seas off the coasts of Greenland, Svalbard, Iceland or northern Norway for nothing. It’s because these stocks are plentiful and can be fished economically – and that won’t change after Brexit.

Q. Aren’t you just standing up for the industrial fisheries who are depleting fish stocks with their massive factory vessels while the small guys are suffering?

A. There isn’t any ‘industrial fishing’ in the UK – this refers to hoovering up fish to process in to products such as fishmeal. This is a far cry from the environmentally sensitive, hi-tech and efficient systems used on UK vessels that minimise by-catch. There’s also no truth in the assertion that big boats are crowding out the small boats. They aren’t even fishing in the same waters. Small vessels tend to operate in coastal waters, while larger, specialist vessels, such as freezer trawlers, have the equipment and ice class to work 1,500 miles away from the UK, where smaller vessels are simply unable to operate.