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I LOVE fish. I eat far more fish than red meat. My idea of the perfect meal is to eat a fish supper in sight of the actual boats that caught the fish. It could be deep sea cod, inshore shellfish, or local herring – what used to be called silver darlings.
It could be in Hastings on the tables outside a nice restaurant directly opposite the beach where they still winch up the inshore fishing vessels. Only drawback here is the bloody thieving seagulls.
It could be in Aldeburgh eating scallops the divers caught that morning from the boats tied up here. Fresh whelks, cockles and even winkles are caught and sold all along the north Norfolk coast.
I have wonderful memories of fishing ports like Killybegs in Donegal, around Orkney and Shetland and all across northern Europe. I have eaten delicious brown shrimps in Bremerhaven where the shrimp boats dry their brown nets from their masts. They look like ancient sailing boats.
Nearer home I’ve eaten delicious locally caught fish in Whitby, Scarborough and other ports all along the Yorkshire coast.
The French coast has always offered remarkable local caught oysters, crevettes, langoustines and many other fish. Across the Atlantic in New England I’ve sat on the portside and eaten cheap lobsters and impressive clam bakes. As you might expect Fisherman’s Quay in San Francisco takes some beating.
All over the world there is almost a freemasonry of those who catch fish. Fisherfolk often care more for the hunt for fish than for politics or national boundaries. Now, at least on both sides of the English Channel, all that seems to have changed.
The vote for and against Brexit was very close. Some were for, some against and some, like our Prime Minister Boris Johnson, couldn’t make up their mind. Remember he wrote two articles for The Telegraph, one for, one against and only decided which should be published at the very last moment.
Many of the arguments in favour of Brexit seemed very convincing and the Brexit position was first across the line. Certain industries believed that Brexit would bring wonders for their own particular interests and one of those was the important deep sea fishing fleet.
Not everything worked out as expected. The ocean of opportunity that Brexit was going to deliver has certainly dried up for Yorkshire and other east coast fisherfolk.
News that Britain and Norway have failed to reach a fishing deal means boats like the Hull-based Kirkella remain tied up, possibly for good.
The Kirkella is a state-of-the-art trawler with a crew of 30 that catches 8 to 10 per cent of all the fish sold in British fish and chip shops. At its peak it supplied cod and haddock for one in 10 of the fish ‘n’ chip takeaway suppers eaten in Britain.
Kirkella was built in 2019 and is 81m (265ft) long, with a 16m (58ft) beam, and measures 3,976 gross tons. The crew’s accommodation has a gym and a cinema.
The new bright yellow ship is the latest chapter in the story of a fishing industry that goes back generations in Hull and other east coast ports. This single ship accounts for over 100 jobs, plus many more in the supply and service chain.
Warnings were given in 2019 when the ship was launched about the failure to obtain a deal. In that year the Kirkella sailed up the Thames to highlight the threats facing the fishing industry if Brexit negotiations failed to deliver a satisfactory deal.
At the time, Sir Barney White-Spunner, chair of the advisory board of UK Fisheries, said: “Brexit has huge advantages for fishing if it is properly handled. Our concern is that it is not being properly handled.”
Today fishing families and the many people working in the industry on shore, along with the huge multi-million pound companies that own the ships and the onshore and dockside facilities have joined together to campaign to save Britain’s distant-waters fishing industry.
Johnson, and his Tory government with his old friend ex-Ukipper George Eustice at the helm as fishing minister as part of his Defra brief, have been slow making promised arrangements with any of our traditional partners around the north Atlantic – the Faroes, Greenland, Iceland and now Norway.
Memories were rekindled of the Cod Wars with Iceland. From 1952 to 1976 the Cod Wars were a series of confrontations between the United Kingdom and Iceland about fishing rights in the North Atlantic. Each of the disputes ended with an Icelandic victory.
It’s not just that Johnson, Eustice and the entire Tory team have made no agreements. They have also shown a total lack of duty of care to the fishing industry.
Fishing folk were happy for the government to negotiate continued low-tariff access to our markets for Norwegian exporters in exchange for Britain receiving Arctic cod quotas.
Without such a deal, British boats can no longer fish in Norway’s sub-Arctic waters. In consequence, there will be no British-caught Arctic cod sold through chippies for our national dish.
Without such an agreement all our cod will be imported from the Norwegians, who will continue to sell their fish products to the UK tariff-free while our boats – like the Kirkella – are excluded from Norway’s Arctic waters.
The boss of Kirkella’s operating company UK Fisheries Jane Sandell summed it up in the pages of the Yorkshire Post: “We had been promised a sea of opportunity, not the scuppering of an entire industry.” Sandell went on to tell the BBC the lack of fishing deal is “a disgrace and a national embarrassment.”
It’s not just Hull and the east coast that is suffering. Plymouth City Council’s leader recently claimed the city’s fishing industry has been “betrayed” by the Brexit deal.
All around the coast fishing communities are unhappy with the post-Brexit deal, as it hasn’t allowed them to catch more fish as originally expected, and in the meantime EU boats are still fishing in UK waters.
Twenty shellfish firms are turning to law. “We are taking a leading counsel’s opinion as to the government’s actions in regard to the EU trade agreement and the assurances given by the government to allow live shellfish exports .
“We feel that there has been negligence and maladministration regarding the government’s negotiations on the agreement and its treatment of our clients,” said a spokesperson for their legal team.
Sadly, even more shellfish specialists are simply shutting their doors and selling their boats for use as pleasure craft.
Useless Eustice at Defra has promised it would only strike agreements “if they are balanced and in the interests of the UK fishing industry.” They offered Norway what they called a fair offer on access to UK waters and the exchange of fishing quotas.
Now they have concluded that our positions remain too far apart to reach an agreement this year. Many in the fishing community voted for Brexit on the promise of a better future, but for the crew of the Kirkella and many others, that future now looks very bleak indeed.
Pomposity personified, Jacob Rees-Mogg can joke all he likes about getting our fish back, but it’s no laughing matter for the many families whose entire income depends on fishing.
Karl Turner, Labour MP for Hull East, told us: “Brexit was supposed to be the fishing industry’s salvation, yet Hull is having hundreds of jobs and millions in investment left high and dry.”
The fishing industry has been used shamelessly, and is now largely being ignored now that Brexit is done. For the hundreds of proud fishing communities all around the coast of these islands, that is unforgivable. They simply deserve better.
Whichever side you voted for in the great Brexit referendum you still need to speak up for those who take to the deep waters and still go hunting for our food – those who fish the oceans in search of what they used to call the silver darlings.
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