Boris visits Brixham at a crucial time for UK fishing

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Waterdance was pleased to be part of the team which welcomed the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Conservative candidate for Totnes, Anthony Mangnall, to the Brixham fish market on Friday 23rd August. Both the Prime Minister and Mr. Mangnall showed a keen interest in the issues facing the fleet and engaged in discussions with Rowan Carter (Waterdance director) and Jake Grantham (Skipper) overlooking the 30m beam trawler, the William of Ladram.

Rowan Carter commented: “It is very encouraging that the Prime Minister chose to spend the day visiting Brixham and listening to us about our concerns for the future of the industry. Whether or not you agree with the PM’s policy of leaving with or without a deal, it was reassuring to know that the PM supports the fishing industry and made a point of coming to visit Brixham – I believe the first PM to visit Brixham in many years”.

Waterdance considers that two key issues facing the fishing industry now are: firstly, Brexit and, secondly, the potential changes to domestic legislation in the Fisheries Bill and the White Paper.

Brexit clearly introduces both opportunities and uncertainty for the fishing industry and the level and nature of such opportunities or disruption will be determined by the political events of the coming months. Waterdance welcomes the opportunities for the UK fishing fleet to expand and grow if a favourable Brexit position is agreed with regards to control over UK waters, however, is concerned about the potential threat of tariffs.

Rowan Carter commented that “any tariffs imposed could make UK fish comparatively more expensive in the crucial EU export markets for key stocks such as cuttlefish, crab, sole and whelks meaning potentially lower prices for the UK fleet. It was therefore reassuring to hear the PM commit to supporting the fishing industry and say that he did not consider that either side would introduce tariffs”.

The Prime Minister, while visiting Brixham, committed that: “we’ve got to make sure that we look after the fishing industry, that we make sure we patrol our waters, that we have mutual recognition and that neither side puts up tariffs”.

Waterdance will attend the Defra organised Brexit preparation workshops in the south west during the first week of September. However, Waterdance would like to see a member of Defra staff based in Brixham for a fixed period of time to act as a resource for the all the businesses in the port of highest economic activity in England to resolve administrative matters linked to Brexit, particularly in the event of no deal.

With regards to domestic legislation, Waterdance considers that it is the wrong time to be considering any fundamental changes to the industry which could risk undermining confidence and lead to reduced investment. The Fisheries Bill and White Paper together amounts to the most comprehensive legislative exercise concerning UK domestic fisheries for decades and any changes made could be of crucial importance to the successful future of the UK fishing industry.

There is a movement to challenge the current quota allocation system, which Waterdance believes should be resisted: the current quota system has been hugely successful in incentivising good stewardship of fish stocks by the private sector as increases in stocks and so quotas create more commercial opportunities. Many millions of pounds have been invested in quotas to create compliant business models in the fishing industry.

Rowan Carter stated, “as quotas are a major investment in fishing businesses, a threat to the quota system seriously undermines the ability to secure investment in order to modernise and grow the fishing fleet in the UK. Against the backdrop of Brexit, it seems to be the wrong time to be considering such changes”.

Waterdance considers that the move in recent times by the devolved administrations to top-slice quota has already led to unwelcome disruption to FQA holders: some quotas have been granted to inshore vessels which they are unable to fish due to the stock occurring in deep waters. The top slicing policy has also led to oversupply of quotas for inshore vessels compared to larger vessels in membership of producer organisations. For example, with respect to commercially important stocks such as Western Channel sole (VIIe) and South west haddock (VIIbk), the inshore boats have 3 to 4 times more quota than the members of the Cornish and South West Fish Producer Organisation pool vessels, which plainly does not make sense.

The administration of the quota withheld as ‘currency’ for fishing trials by virtue of the top slicing policy has also been poor, resulting in policy u-turns where VII monkfish and megrim quotas withheld for the start of 2019 were released on the 31st July, causing disruption to in year quota trading and so fishing plans.

Martyn Youell, quota and fisheries manager for Waterdance, commented: “Policies such as top-slicing risk undermining the efficiency of the UK fleet and reduces the overall fleet’s ability to exploit the resources of the waters surrounding the UK. Changes such as top-slicing and any further changes to domestic legislation which act so as to undermine the FQA system should be avoided”.

John Williams