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Caithness fishing boss hits out at Brexit deal that gives foreign fleets continued access to Scottish waters

By Jean Gunn

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Andrew Bremner.
Andrew Bremner.

The fishing industry is reeling at a Brexit deal that is "not what was promised", according to a Caithness fishing company boss.

The draft trade agreement, which contained numerous pages about the fishing policy in the UK, was released on Boxing Day.

Under the deal, 25 per cent of the EU’s fishing quota in UK waters will be reallocated to British fishermen by June 2026. At this point the UK will take full control over its fishing waters and will negotiate fishing quotas with the EU on an annual basis.

However, the Scottish Government blasted the agreement, saying it ties any future agreement over fishing quotas directly to access to EU markets.

Andrew Bremner, of the Bremner Fishing Company Ltd based in Wick, said there was no big windfall for the industry in the new trade deal.

He said: “It has not been a good deal for the fishing industry. It is far from taking back control of our own waters – the foreign fleets will still have access to the British waters for the next five years.

“It is certainly not what we were promised. There was no big windfall for the fishing industry.”

The Scottish Government also said that the deal would mean a fall in the quantity of key fishing stocks landed by the Scottish fleet, including cod, haddock, whiting and saithe.

Leasing and swapping quotas, which are required to allow vessels to operate legally in very complex mixed fisheries in the northern waters of the Scottish fishing zone, will no longer be allowed and leasing will be prohibitively expensive, according to the Scottish Government, reducing the quantity of fish in key stocks available for the Scottish industry to land.

Fergus Ewing, cabinet secretary for the rural economy, said: “The analysis we are publishing of what the UK withdrawal agreement means for Scotland’s fishing interests is deeply troubling. Carried out by our internationally renowned fisheries specialists, it shows how Scotland’s interests are adversely impacted by the deal reached by the UK and the EU.

“Scottish coastal communities were told that any Brexit deal would mean a very large rise in fishing opportunities. In fact, for the key stocks that the Scottish industry depends on, far from seeing a big increase, there will actually be a fall in the quantity of fish they can land.

“We were assured that getting our own seat at the table as a coastal state in annual negotiations would result in gains for our fishing interests. Through this agreement, our ability to do that has been removed with the loss of leasing and swapping quota.

“We were also told that a red line for the UK government was that the fisheries deal would not be tied to the overall trade deal. In fact, fisheries is hardwired into the overall deal, meaning any attempt to reduce EU access in future will lead to trade sanctions – hitting key Scottish industries like salmon producers."

The Scottish Government admitted that pelagic landings, such as mackerel and herring, and some other stocks would see a modest gain in quotas for UK boats. But it said the overall reduction in catch for Scottish fleets could have a knock-on effect for harbours, fish markets and processors.

Mike Park, chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, said: “Whereas we have gained modest uplifts in shares for some stocks, the stark reality is that the demersal sector enters 2021 facing significant shortfalls across a range of key species, which is down to the fact that we can no longer enter into direct swaps with colleagues in Europe.

“In addition, the issue of sovereignty and our future ability to negotiate additional shares after the five-and-a-half-year window would seem clouded by so much complexity that it is difficult at this time to see how the UK government can use its newly recovered sovereignty to improve the situation of my members.”

Mr Bremner felt the slight increase in their fishing quota would not be enough, but was pleased that they would still have access to the European markets with minimal disruption and no tariffs for the time being.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: "We have an agreement on fisheries which will ensure that our fishermen, and our coastal communities, will flourish outside of the EU’s unfair Common Fisheries Policy. The UK will once more be a sovereign coastal state."

Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said earlier this week that details of a major funding package for fisheries businesses would be announced in the very near future.

He said: “Where at present British fishermen are entitled to around half the fish in our waters, in 2026 they will be taking two-thirds of our marine wealth – a sizeable uplift.

“In the meantime, during the period of transition agreed with the EU for both sides to adjust to the scale of the change, there will be a gradual increase in the amount of fish we are entitled to take.

“We will use the time to invest in the UK fleet and our communities, to make sure they can take full advantage of the riches flowing back to us, and to build a sustainable industry and healthy stocks."

Meanwhile members of the farming industry in the far north have welcomed the absence of tariffs on their exports.

Arnott Coghill, Caithness area NFU representative, said: “It is looking much better than it was – it's good to have a deal rather than no deal. The free movement of lamb and beef will help, that was the very thing we were frightened of with the no tariffs.

"There will still be some restrictions with checks at the borders, which is not the same as before. Lorries should not leave for the continent unless they have the correct paperwork in place."

He pointed out that it might be difficult getting paperwork in place by January 1, and checks at borders would cause delays. "It is the fine detail that will be the problem," he added.

Third-country listing status for the UK will mean that trade will continue for exports of meat, dairy and other products of animal origin – although Scotland’s seed potato industry is not included.

The National Sheep Association will be among the farming bodies holding meetings in January to discuss the implication of the deal.

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