Brexit is not the only thing standing in the way of Grimsby's fishing fleet return

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 29 Mar 2018

In the third instalment of his fishing series, Parliamentary Correspondent Patrick Daly looks at why Brexit is not the only issue facing the Grimsby industry’s potential rebirth.

There was shock last week after ministers announced that the UK fishing industry will remain under EU control until 2021 – nearly two years after the Brexit deadline.

Auction time at Grimsby Fish Market

Some leave voters – including the estimated 90 per cent of skippers who voted to divorce from Brussels – fear the Government’s concession, having previously vowed for the UK to become its own independent coastal state by March 2019, has left the door open for further capitulation on the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) when the final exit deal comes around.

Being outside the CFP would give the UK control over who can access British waters (its Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles) and how the fish quota in those waters are divvied out.

Such controls could ensure there is more fish available to catch, possibly opening the door for young skipper-hopefuls from port towns such as Grimsby to try their hand at the age-old profession once again.


Grimsby's Ross Tiger pictured fishing for cod off Papa Bank in Scottish waters in 1971

Industry insiders have predicted that cod quota in the North Sea could increase by as much as 20 per cent by 2021 if the UK is outside the CFP.

But fishermen on the East Coast of England say, even if the UK does leave the CFP eventually, the industry has been lost to this part of the world.

As well as the slow decline of the fishing ports – Grimsby and Hull included – industry figures say the Scottish Government is exerting an iron grip on how fishing in the North Sea is run.

READ MORE: PM must give no more ground on fishing in Brexit talks, warns Tory MP

Danny Normandale, a skipper from Barton-upon-Humber, is currently in a wrangle with Marine Scotland over the licencing of one of his boats.

He bought the 88ft vessel, the Independence – formerly known as the Adorne II – from Fraserburgh in Scotland with the intention of using it to pair trawl for coley in the upper reaches of the North Sea with another of his trawlers, the Allegiance. The deal was so far done that he had already agreed the quota rental from a fellow Humber-based company.


Danny Normandale, Barton-based skipper and owner of SH90 fishing company

But when Mr Normandale applied for an English licence for the Independence – at this point now registered at its new home in Scarborough in East Yorkshire – Marine Scotland (an arm of the Scottish Government) refused to allow the transfer, insisting the boat, despite being originally built and christened in Lowestoft in Suffolk, was Scottish.

Wielding their power granted in the 2012 Fisheries Management Concordat, Scottish officials told the Humber skipper they would only approve the transfer to an English licence if he landed more than 50 per cent of his catch into English ports for 12 months.

And even after that, the North Lincolnshire resident said the rules dictated that he would then need to stick to that same pattern of landings for a further three years to hold onto the English licence – despite the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) agreeing “in principle” to licence the vessel in England.

READ MORE: Grimsby MP Melanie Onn blasts ministers for 'trading away' fishing in Brexit transition deal

Mr Normandale said he found the situation “absolutely incredible”.

“We are an English company, with an English boat using English quota and an English licence – so why should I be dictated to by Scotland?” he said.

The issue he has with Marine Scotland’s proposal is, with the major markets for coley based at either Peterhead on the east coast of Scotland or Hanstholm in Denmark, there is little financial sense in him landing 40 tonnes of the whitefish into an English port.

With fishing’s long-decline on England’s east coast – including in Grimsby – Mr Normandale, who has the option of renting 300 tonnes of coley per year to double his business’ profits, said there is nowhere with the capability to land and sell the amount of fish he would bring in.

The owner of SH90 Limited, a three-trawler fleet, said the only way round it would be to land into Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland and pay for the catch to be driven by lorry up to Peterhead for auction – an operation he estimates could cost £100,000 extra a year, making the business unviable.

READ MORE: Fishing after Brexit will bring 'dozens, not hundreds' of jobs to Grimsby

Instead, his boats the Independence and the Ardent, another boat purchased from Scotland, are unable to fish and instead carry out “guard work” – acting as mobile lighthouses around dangerous structures at sea – earning far less money.

Guard work might make £700-a-day while fishing, before costs are subtracted, can bring in £6,000 on a daily basis, said Mr Normandale.

“I had the journey from Berwick to Peterhead priced-up – to hire an articulated lorry to transport a catch being brought in every eight days was £50,000-a-year,” he said.


Cod and haddock being lowered into the hold from a pair-trawled catch, circa 2004 (Image: PA)

“Then there is the £1,000 extra in fuel costs each way from the fishing grounds – that’s another £50,000-a-year.

“They are trying to force your hand. You think, ‘I can’t do that’, so you land it into Scotland instead and then by stealth they have taken your licence.

“The situation infuriates me. But we have a fisheries minister in George Eustice who doesn’t have the balls to stand up to Scotland. I’ve told him that face-to-face in a meeting.

READ MORE: Grimsby's fishing industry revival not guaranteed after Brexit, says North Lincs MEP

“The Government is so scared of Scotland asking for another independence referendum that they will do anything to appease them.”

Mr Normandale has written to local MP Martin Vickers about the situation, with the Cleethorpes MP writing to Mr Eustice on his behalf.

In his reply correspondence in December, Mr Eustice said Marine Scotland’s decision to refuse Mr Normandale’s licence transfer had been “entirely consistent” with the 2012 Concordat.


Fishing Minister George Eustice, pictured in Grimsby

“Marine Scotland has indicated to us [Defra] that they will happily support registration in England, once they have sufficient evidence to suggest that the vessel has genuinely moved its place of operation and will land fish predominately out of Scotland,” wrote the Cornish MP.

While Mr Normandale is only one local example, Dave Winspear, chief executive of the Eastern England Fish Producers’ Organisation, said the Barton skipper was a “prime example” of the type of issues his members were having with the Concordat.

“It is typical of the aggressive nationalistic agenda that Scotland were on – and to a certain degree still are – that they try to run the show,” said Mr Winspear.

“We have found many times that they try to interpret the Concordat in a manner that suits Marine Scotland in terms of taking quota and licences. They walk all over Defra.

“They want 50 per cent of the catch landed into English ports but there is no fleet there. In places like Grimsby and Hull, it is gone – there is no fleet left. It is the same for Whitby. In ports like Scarborough and North Shields, it is mainly shellfish or prawns.


A copy of Fisheries Minister George Eustice's letter to Danny Normandale about the Scottish concordat, dated 21 December 2017

“There is nowhere in England capable of dealing with the types of quota or fish that someone like Danny is targeting. It has to land in Scotland, otherwise he’s transporting it there by road and it’s a day older when it gets to market.”

A new Concordat between the UK’s devolved nations is being worked up and Defra says it has consulted fishing officials across the four countries on what changes should be made. It cannot currently be signed-off due to the on-going issues with self-governance in Northern Ireland.

Mr Winspear is campaigning for “freedom of movement” to be established for English boats as part of the new Concordat wording, allowing them to land at whichever UK port suits them.

“We are all the UK,” he said. “We have to look for the best market and if that is Peterhead then that is where we have to go.

“Marine Scotland is blinkered in this. They are benefiting massively from the raw product these fishermen are putting into their industry. Their seafood processors, transport companies, ice producers and net makers are doing well out of it but Marine Scotland want everything.


Peterhead Fish Market is a convenient place to sell produce caught in the upper reaches of the North Sea

“They want these boats to be Scottish. But some of these vessels have fished in England for generations from places like Whitby, Hull and Grimsby. They have to land elsewhere now and that in itself is a crying shame.”

Mr Winspear’s organisation was originally founded in June 1981 under the title ‘Grimsby Fish Producers Organisation’ with the membership made-up entirely of Grimsby-owned vessels .

The name-change came due to the town’s declining fishing fortunes – today, no Grimsby-registered fleet regularly lands fresh produce at the fish market.

READ MORE: Grimsby's Ice Factory named one of seven most endangered heritage sites in Europe

But would investment in the town’s docks change that and help create an English east coast port that could once again rival Scotland’s operation?

Mr Winspear, who is based in Whitby, said it was difficult to see that happening.

“It is a chicken before the egg thing,” he said. “Until the infrastructure is there – we’re talking about the transport facilities, the labour force to land the catch, the big ice producers – the suppliers won’t go there. And the merchants won’t go there until the suppliers are there.


No.1 Fish Dock and Dock Tower, pictured in busier times (Image: Grimsby Telegraph)

“Any change to that is going to take someone investing in better facilities. But who is going to do that in advance in the hope of something that may or may not happen? Certainly no one is going to based on the promises made by George Eustice, [Environment Secretary] Michael Gove or Theresa May after their latest announcement .”

Mr Normandale said the practicalities of somewhere such as Grimsby turning into a major port again were not in its favour.

Warming seas means fish that was found in the North Sea off the Humber now has retreated to the upper reaches around Scotland and further afield.

“Unfortunately all the fish at the moment are in the north of the North Sea,” he said.

“You are not going to stream 260 nautical miles and 30 hours south of Peterhead to go to Grimsby. You might burn 2,000 litres of petrol doing it and at 50 pence a litre, that is an extra £1,000 into port and then another £1,000 to get you back to where you want to fish. That is why we go to the closest port.”

Marine Scotland, when asked about its refusal to allow Mr Normandale’s licence to be transferred, said it would be “inappropriate for the Scottish Government to comment on individual cases”.

But a Scottish Government source said someone in Mr Normandale’s situation would generally see their application to change a vessel’s administration approved as long as “a change in fishing patterns – meaning actually fishing from English ports – has been established over a period”.


Environment Secretary Michael Gove has vowed to take the UK out of the CFP after 2021 (Image: PA)

“All UK fishing vessels have the same reciprocal rights of access to all UK waters, and so there is nothing to stop a Scottish licensed fishing vessel from fishing in English waters, nor vice versa,” said the source.

UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice declined to be interviewed for this series and refused to answer questions regarding Mr Normandale’s wrangle with Marine Scotland and the Concordat.

A spokeswoman for Defra, approached about opportunities for Grimsby after Brexit, said: “We recognise the importance of fishing to ports like Grimsby.

“Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to design a new domestic fishing policy – one which is in the whole of the UK’s best interests and allows our industry to thrive.”

A Whitehall source said any improvements to Grimsby’s port facilities, to make it viable for North Sea fishermen to land at an English port after Brexit, were “a commercial matter” for its private port operator.



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