“Stand with us or we’re finished” say Hastings fishermen.
Emma Harwood reports

The Hastings fishing community is challenging MP Amber Rudd to oppose concessions to fishing rights made by the government’s Brexit transition deal, which they say has sold them out and used them as a bargaining tool during negotiations.

Paul Joy on Hastings beach
PICTURE: Colin Gibson

Paul Joy, Chair of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, (NUTFA), which represents under ten metre boats in the UK, has written to the home secretary asking her to give her cast-iron assurance that she will stand with the fishing community in her constituency and vote against terms which will lock Britain into the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) for a further 20 month period after it leaves the EU on 1st April 2019.

If forced to remain in the CFP fishermen will still be subject to EU legislation which gives European vessels –which currently catch 10 times more fish from British waters than UK vessels catch from theirs – continued rights of access and prevents UK fishermen from setting their own quotas. They will be hit still harder by a landing obligation which comes fully into effect across all species of fish in 2019 requiring every fish caught to be brought ashore and counted against the national quota. This could be the “nail in the coffin” for small fleets like Hastings that already have very little quota, according to Mr Joy, who is also chair of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society.

Fishermen are planning to protest this Sunday 8 April against the terms agreed on 19 March, and say that Amber Rudd could be on sticky ground at the next election if she does not get behind them. “She knows full well that landing obligations must be installed completely across all species by 2019. So between 2019 and 2020 it gives us this interim period of a year where we will be effectively shut down and finished. We need to make sure that’s clearly understood,” says Mr Joy.

But last week Ms Rudd told fishermen they would have to wait until 2021 before the UK leaves the CFP and that under the terms agreed for the transitional period EU states will continue to have access to British waters and the UK’s share of quotas will not be changing. “I know many fishermen in our towns have found this announcement disappointing, but we must look at the bigger picture and see that the prize is still out there”. 

“I fully understand the concerns our fishing community has about the Common Fisheries Policy and its impact”, she said. “and I am clear that we must make the most of the opportunity leaving the EU offers us to take back control of our waters and to ensure a fair share of quota for UK fishermen. The implementation period will allow us to make a proper transition to a future outside the Common Fisheries Policy. This will give us time to prepare ourselves to take full advantage of the opportunities for our coastal communities to revive economically, and for our marine environment to be managed sustainably. That is a significant prize, and I believe we must keep our eyes on it.” 

However, Mr Joy told HIP that fishermen were being used once again as a bargaining tool. “The promise was, for Brexit, that we would take back control and set our own quotas accordingly for our own fish in our own sea. We’ve still only got a miniscule quota allowance from Europe that’s effectively taken the fish and hasn’t given us anything back. We’ve got the most productive waters and yet we haven’t got the rights of access to them. If we stay in the CFP we’re effectively giving the bulk of British fishing to our European counterparts. Their businesses are thriving, while ours are going under”.

He added that, by capitulating to Europe in continuing to allow EU vessels access to British waters, the government had given away its negotiating hand. “The French, the Belgians, the Dutch, haven’t even flexed their muscles yet. We’re accepting an interim period of a year to come out of the CFP, knowing full well that small fisheries can’t survive in the CFP. That’s one of the worries – they know it, they understand it, and that’s why I’ve emailed Amber and said, can you confirm that you will vote against it with other rebel MPs? “We need an answer. This two year period could become a three or four year period. What else will be conceded?”

 

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