A £23m fund has been made available to support exporters in the fishing industry that have experienced losses after the EU–UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) signed on 30 December.
Victoria Prentis, parliamentary under-secretary of state for farming, fisheries and food, announced the fund at the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum policy conference today. She added that the £23m fund would also be available to fishermen who have experienced losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prentis announced that there is also a £100m investment to support coastal fishing communities. "We will supply more information on this, but if anyone has any questions about the £23m fund, do please get in touch," she said.
When asked whether the UK should cut ties completely with the EU in 2025, she said: "We are already an independent state, but the six to 12 miles compromise [where fishing vessels from the EU have access to UK waters], will I think, need to be looked at again in five years' time, and I hope the next five years will act as an adjustment period."
Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, who preceded Prentis on the virtual event this morning, commented: "During the changeover [the next five and a half years] the EU still have free access to our waters. And our quotas are still not balanced.
"Compromises were made in the TCA and we sacrificed our fishing [quotas] over jobs. Pessimists among us in the industry, and this includes me, will worry about future trade pressures and there will be fears that we will be trapped into a perpetual groundhog day."
Deas said that on a positive note we will now be able to manage our fisheries more independently, but in practice the EU vessels can still fish within the six- to 12-mile radius "subject to UK laws".
Deas added: "Devolution and reserved powers will be another important factor; however, the UK should now be equally powerful in future talks.
"There is a new dynamic internationally, but we don't control access or quota shares right now." In conclusion, Deas explained that the UK had moved from a status of fairly equal access on quotas and relative stability to one of "slightly more instability."
Jim Portus, chief executive of the South Western Fish Producers Organisation, closing a roundtable panel session that included James Kane, associate, Institute for Government, and Simen Svenheim, counsellor for trade, industry and fisheries a the Royal Norwegian Embassy in London, added: "Our TCA deal is far from being a Norway deal and the Brexit-21 details revealed on Christmas Eve are worse than the Common Fisheries Policy, after months of trials and errors of export systems, in expectation of no deal.
"I was alongside the prime minister when he visited Brixham fish market and promised fish merchants that our fresh fish would flow through Dover to Calais with no restrictions. In reality, they only had days to prepare after 24 December fell short of all expectations."
Portus added: "There will be no next steps for some fishing businesses if things don't change very quickly."
"Many people think of fishing as a noble profession, but the reality is not so romantic, they simply need to make enough money from their endeavours to pay their bills and look after their families."
He concluded by adding: "The EU is still a large market for the UK, but we do now have a wider market. The EU buyers will then have to compete to buy our fish and we do still actually own most of the fish in the pond. We must not forget the non-TCA fisheries and government policies forcing fishermen to change their fishing patterns."