The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Fisheries has released a report collating responses from across the UK fishing industry on the impacts of Brexit on their livelihoods, and the actions that respondents think the government should take to support the industry going forward, reports Gaby Bartai.

The APPG is cross-party, and the report, co-funded by The Seafarers’ Charity and The Fishmongers’ Company’s Fisheries Charitable Trust, is an independent one – so it takes no view on the overall benefit, or otherwise, of Brexit.

The report was compiled at the suggestion of APPG vice chair Alistair Carmichael, following a parliamentary debate on the topic in mid-2021, and is based on responses to a survey that the APPG then conducted in late 2021 to canvass experiences of Brexit across the industry.

The questions posed in the survey were:

  • How has Brexit affected your livelihood?
  • Has the turnover of your business changed?
  • Have you found changes in the availability of labour?
  • If you are involved in exports, have you seen any financial or regulatory impact since the start of January [2021]?
  • Have any of the impacts been unexpected? If so, which and in what way?
  • What key changes do you want to see to improve or protect your livelihood in the future?

The report’s introductory ‘executive summary’ states: “The UK fishing industry was frequently highlighted during the process that led to the UK’s departure from the EU. Since Brexit was fully brought about from the beginning of 2021, the fishing industry has seen a range of impacts, many of which industry members have reported to be unexpected and unwelcome.

“Although the industry is diverse in terms of geography, scale and fishing methods, detrimental impacts on livelihoods, business turnover, labour, exports and access were reported across various segments of the sector.

“However, there is hope that the situation could be improved. The recommendations within this report highlight pathways that may bring this to reality.”

The report collates survey responses under a number of headings: effects on livelihoods, including financial uncertainties, and impacts on quotas and bivalve production; changes to turnover; changes to labour; impact on exports, including increased regulatory costs, and additional costs due to delays or paperwork mistakes; loss of business and markets; disproportionate impact on small-scale operators; and unexpected impacts. Almost without exception, the impacts cited are negative ones.

Six key recommendations from industry emerged from the survey:

  • Ensure that quotas are distributed and managed more fairly
  • Implement further restrictions on non-UK fishing fleet access to UK waters, and sooner than 2026
  • Ensure effective and inclusive management of UK stocks
  • Implement measures to increase the efficiency and reduce the costs of exporting
  • Work with the EU to free up trade and remove regulatory and financial barriers
  • Invest in infrastructure and new markets both at home and abroad.

The report concludes: “The APP on Fisheries received a diverse mix of responses on the impacts of Brexit, although all were characterised by significant concern around financial losses and the long-term viability of individual businesses, fishing fleets, and other sectors of the UK fisheries sector including processors and transporters.

“Many respondents had already been experiencing difficulties prior to Brexit and to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as labour shortages and diminishing catches or quotas. However, Brexit appears to have been the final trigger for, in the words of one fisherman, ‘a perfect storm’.

“Adding to this is a sense of unfairness and frustration at the impacts of Brexit, which for some respondents appears to have been heightened by the expectations they held prior to the Trade and Co-operation Agreement.

“One fisherman, when asked if any of the impacts he had experienced had been unexpected, answered ‘all of them, because we were told we would be getting the independence of our sovereign waters back and that has not happened’.”

Alistair Carmichael said: “Having raised the myriad challenges faced by fishermen and the wider seafood industry numerous times with the government in the past two years, the work of the APPG has been vital in gathering evidence across the sector.

“This timely report provides a direct insight into the unique circumstances our fishing industry has faced as a result of new trading conditions, and will be a crucial resource for those in parliament and government aiming to support the sector.

“Based on the correspondence I received personally and the accounts contained in this report, it is clear that more and better engagement is needed, and pragmatic, serious efforts to support the fishing industry are required from ministers in order to ensure that coastal communities can continue to thrive into the future.”

The full report, ‘Brexit: Voices of the UK fishing industry’ can be read at: bit.ly/3Hl5Q9o

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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