Pro-Brexit fishing lobby is divided and at war with itself just at the point when Grimsby needs it most

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 8 Dec 2017

The landmark Fisheries Bill hasn’t even been published yet but it is already causing division, writes Parliamentary Correspondent Patrick Daly .

Early in the New Year, the Government is expected to publish the Fisheries Bill outlining how UK seas will be governed and managed after leaving the European Union and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Coastal towns and communities all had their reasons for voting for Brexit and the rebirth of a dwindling fishing industry influenced many leave voters' decisions – including those in Grimsby.

But at a time when the industry needs to speak with a clear voice, there appears to be a schism developing amongst key pro-Brexit players.

Fishing for Leave (FFL) has found influence with both MPs and within the media – Aaron Brown, head of fishing policy for the organisation, recently gave evidence to the Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on how best to create a workable fishing management system after Brexit.

READ MORE: What will Grimsby's fishing industry be like after Brexit?

The FFL is calling for Britain to employ a “days-at-sea” management system, where vessels are allocated limits on fishing time and with skippers docked time (and therefore money) for focusing hauls only on the most valuable fish.

Not everyone is in favour of such a model and would like to continue with something not all that dissimilar from the catch quota system utilised by the CFP.


Fishing for Leave organised the flotilla on the Thames in London before the 2016 Brexit referendum(Image: Getty Images)

But FFL’s growing prominence and forcefulness in calling for a new system – which it says would put the interests of coastal communities and smaller fishing operations before the big players – has annoyed some.

One fishing source said Mr Brown – who also confusingly goes by the name ‘Alan Hastings’ – was a “renegade”, while a Westminster figure accused FFL of being “dogmatic” in their views.

“You can’t have them and the NFFO (the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations) in the same room with one another, otherwise they just spend the whole time arguing,” they said.

A Facebook group has emerged, Fishing Onward to Brexit, which has acted as a splinter group for those unhappy with the FFL’s direction.

Comments on the group accuse FFL of failing to listen to other points of view. “Seems FFL are the ones being listened to at the moment, but I can tell you they don’t speak for all of us,” said one annoyed member.

Melanie Onn, the MP for Great Grimsby, will be at the fishing debate, being held in Parliament on Thursday afternoon, calling for what the town currently has, in terms of a fishing industry, to be protected. At least 5,000 jobs are currently linked to the fishing and processing trades.


Melanie Onn MP, pictured (left) during a visit to Grimsby's Fish Market

Grimsby’s Fish Market is a major supplier to both the commercial seafood processing industry and also the smaller ‘fish van’ operations that roam the UK.

With 80 per cent of its annually auctioned 15,000 tonnes of fish coming from Iceland and Norway, any disruption from the current fishing management system could seriously impact on that in-flow of cod, haddock and plaice – the food Brits generally like to eat.

READ MORE: Why didn't Grimsby's seafood trade do more to talk-up EU benefits before Brexit vote?

That should be taken in consideration when arguing between having a 12-mile exclusivity zone for British fishermen, or a 200-mile zone – as had been advocated for in some circles – says Ms Onn.

“For those wanting the 200 mile limit, they seem to have put the ‘Cod Wars’ to the back of their minds,” the town’s Labour MP said.


Grimsby Fish Market

“Given that one of our most reliable sources of imported fish comes from Iceland, it would be unhelpful that current arrangements are disturbed as it would have a direct impact on the viability of Grimsby’s fish market and the availability of the nation’s preferred white fish.”

The industry has many different demands of Brexit. Some want a heftier total catch allocation – taken from the quota share of some of its EU neighbours currently fishing in UK waters – while others want a whole new management model to re-set how fishing is carried out.

But right now, those differing and vested interests are not helpful to the fishermen’s cause – and nor will they assist in sealing the best fisheries Brexit deal for Grimsby.

READ MORE: Today's main headlines from Humberbusiness.com



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