By Dave Young

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, recently made a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it visit to the Stade. Accompanied both by local MP and former Home Secretary Amber Rudd and local Labour council leader Peter Chowney, he met Hastings fishermen to discuss the post-Brexit future of the industry.

Left to right: Fisherman Richard Kelly talking to
Michael Gove MP, Amber Rudd MP and Cllr Peter Chowney


Paul Joy, chairman of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society, questioned the minister on government fisheries policy, specifically the possibilities of “a bigger slice of the cake” (larger quotas).

The discussion focused on regulations concerning commercial boats under 10 metres, a category including not only Hastings, but 92% of the South East fleet. Other major issues pressed by Joy and his colleagues, Dean Adams and Richard Kelly, were cod quotas – 76% of local boats have only 2% of the catch  – and the new Marine Conservation Zone.

‘The advice we’ve had on MCZ is that it doesn’t affect trawling,’ replied Gove, who appeared well-briefed but short on detailed proposals throughout. When told his department had thus far been non-committal on the subject, this became one of many items the minister ‘promised to look into’. He added: ‘Our intention is to get new quotas, we want to do right by the fishermen.’

‘One-size-fits-all regulations don’t work – every boat fishes differently,’ Joy continued, particularly concerned by a recent fisheries White Paper. ‘(It) set my alarm bells ringing, I don’t like the idea of putting quotas out to tender. Small fishermen never do well in a situation tendering for fish alongside big companies. When we do have new quotas to allocate, we want them to go to vessels that are truly British – we have an opportunity for that under Brexit. The existing EU rules haven’t worked for (British) fisheries at all. How long will it take to change    2020?’ Joy asked.

‘Even though we’re out the Common Fisheries Policy by Jan 1st 2021, we’ll negotiate before then as if we’re already left,’ Gove responded, adding that ‘Iceland will loan us three fishery protection cutters to police our waters when we leave the EU.’

Taking a wider view Paul Joy pointed out: ‘The social and economic benefit is very important to coastal communities.  Our fishing industry has been here a thousand years, and we fish sustainably.’

Peter Chowney highlighted two recent successful applications made by Hastings Council netting over £800,000 of EU funding grants to support the local fishing industry.

‘Don’t you get going (leaving)    not like Boris and everything.  We need you,’ Joy cautioned Gove at the meeting’s close.

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