The “Leave campaign” promised that Britain’s fishers would benefit from EU exit. The reality could prove very differentby Griffin Carpenter / December 21, 2017 / Leave a comment
The fishing community in Poole has watched its fleet undergo several transformations. Fish stocks once seemed endless, and so did the number of vessels. But recent decades have seen a steady decline. In the early 1990s, thanks to government policy on fishing quotas—the share of the catch limit allowed to any given vessel—a number of fishers were shut out of the system. Many of them left the industry altogether.
With Brexit, another transformation is on the cards, and once again ports like Poole stand to lose out. For this fishing community, Brexit may well not turn out to be what was advertised on the tin.
During the referendum campaign last year, “Leavers” made a lot of noise about Britain’s fishing industry and how it stood to gain from EU exit. The most headline-grabbing example was when Nigel Farage led a flotilla of fishing trawlers up the Thames in a protest designed to coincide with Prime Minister’s Questions. And in the end, many fishers did opt for Brexit, enthusiastic about an end to EU regulations and quotas which, in their view, meant foreign trawlers were netting all their fish.
But here’s the thing: the risks and opportunities presented by Brexit depend largely on which part of the fishing community you consider. For there is not just one “fishing industry.” And the potential benefits presented by Brexit are highly concentrated in a few hands.
Fishers in Poole are reliant on exports. Most of the £2m worth of fish landed there each year is shellfish for export. This includes whelks and oysters for the Asian market and clams, mussels, crabs and finfish for the EU market. In fact, Poole serves as point of export for fish from several nearby ports en route to fish markets and restaurants in France and Spain. Fishers here are keen to sell to the British market, but British tastes are infamously stubborn. Poole is therefore put significantly at risk by any Brexit which creates barriers between the British and European markets.
It is particularly exposed because its fleet is small-scale, with all 79 vessels under 12 metres in length. Some British vessels stand to benefit if post-Brexit fishing quotas are increased, as they hold the quota shares. But the ships in Poole, largely shut out of…