View: Keeping our fish & chips British
By Sir Barney White-Spunner, Chairman of the Advisory Committee, UK Fisheries Ltd
15 February 2019
You might be surprised to know that fewer than one portion in every dozen of our national dish served from fish & chip shops in the UK contains cod or haddock landed from a British boat. You might also be unaware that, if you are lucky enough to purchase a piece of fish caught on a British vessel and landed in a British port, it will come from one single vessel – namely, Kirkella.
That’s right, just one trawler remains of Britain’s once impressive and vital distant waters fishing fleet. Where once British vessels fed the nation with delicious fish, not least in the wartime and post-war era of rationing and real austerity, more than 90% of the fish in our chippies is now imported.
Kirkella plies her trade in the bountiful seas off the coasts of Norway, Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroes. She is currently able to do so thanks to EU fisheries agreements that allow these nations to sell the catch from their own waters in Britain. Norway, for example, currently sells over £500m of fish directly into the UK market.
Unfortunately, Kirkella’s status as the sole guardian of our distant waters fishing heritage is now under serious threat. If the UK does not strike the right balance of mutually beneficial bilateral trade and fisheries access deals with our partner nations once we leave the European Union, then this beautiful, state-of-the-art vessel will be forced to seek other waters far from her home port of Hull.
The consequences of this would be profound. Britain’s centuries-long history of distant waters fishing will come to an end. The Hull-based trawlermen and women that make up the crew and provide supporting services to Kirkella will have their livelihoods put at risk. To all intents and purposes, there will no longer be any British fish & chips.
The challenge is this: in looking to negotiate post-Brexit deals as quickly as possible, the Department for International Trade (DIT) has tried to mirror as closely as possible the existing terms of the EU’s trade agreements with third countries. Among many other things, these trade agreements grant third countries access to the huge UK market for selling fish.
But access to fishing quotas is not currently regulated by existing trade agreements, and by granting UK market access to third countries independently of an agreement relating to fishing quotas, we are giving away the one negotiating lever we have as we press for a fair deal for British distant waters fishermen. In short, if we do not recognise the vital link between market access and quota access, we may see an end to British distant waters fishing in the seas where cod and haddock can be caught most sustainably.
As Chairman of the Advisory Board of UK Fisheries, the company that operates the Kirkella, I have approached Liam Fox, Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade (DIT), asking him to guarantee that no trade agreements be signed with partner nations around the northern North Atlantic that allow them market access for selling seafood products to the UK without parallel arrangements that allow the UK distant waters fleet to continue to fish in their waters.
I have also asked him to ensure that DIT, which is currently working on our post-Brexit trade agreements, is working in lockstep with DEFRA, which is in charge of fisheries arrangements. While I am are sure that both DEFRA secretary Michael Gove and Liam Fox are doing everything they can to protect the interests of our nation, we must guard against any possibility that a failure of joined-up thinking between these two departments inadvertently puts our proud industry at risk.
Such assurances from our political leaders would give us the confidence to continue investing in distant waters fishing from the UK, ensuring our industry can thrive and grow and protecting the future of our brave trawlermen – and, of course, our national dish!