Sun 18 April 2021

There is currently no legal basis for the UK’s distant-waters vessels to fish cod in Norwegian waters from the end of this year, reports David Hencke

Britain’s latest state-of-the-art trawler, the £52 million Kirkella, has been laid up in Hull as the Government failed to negotiate new fishing quotas with Norway in time for the end of the Brexit transition period on 1 January.

Instead of ‘taking back control’ with the revival of the UK’s fishing industry, trawlermen in Hull face losing their jobs and the country faces the demise of the distant-waters fishing industry.

The Kirkella was officially launched by the Princess Anne in Greenwich, south London, last April and catches cod and haddock in Norwegian waters, filleting the fish on board for one of Britain’s favourite dishes – cod and chips.

On 30 September, the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, signed an agreement with Norway’s Minister of Fisheries, Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen, with a fanfare announcing that this was the UK’s first fishing deal as an “independent coastal state”.

Eustice said at the time: “I am delighted that a framework fisheries agreement with Norway has been successfully secured. The agreement is testament to our commitment to acting as a cooperative independent coastal state, seeking to ensure a sustainable and a prosperous future for the whole of the UK fishing industry.”

But now, Jane Sandell, CEO of UK Fisheries – the British company that operates the UK’s distant-waters fleet – has said that despite all the focus on talks between the Government and the EU, the process that will decide whether there will be any distant-waters fishing from the UK on 1 January, or perhaps ever again, has only just begun.

“It’s now or never for our UK distant-waters fleet and the hundreds of families whose livelihoods depend in it,” she said. “This is not rhetoric: if the Government does not strike a deal with Norway and other countries in the next couple of weeks, it’s the end of distant-waters fishing from Hull. It’s as simple as that.”

Despite the recently-signed fisheries framework agreement with Norway, there is currently no legal basis for UK Fisheries’ distant-waters vessels to fish cod from the end of this year. According to the company, Norway is keen to sort out a quota deal but the UK Government has been slow to take it up on this – despite it pressing both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for International Trade.

Meanwhile, the Norwegians, under their present fishing deal with the European Union, will continue to be able to fish for Arctic cod in the North Sea – bringing it ashore to the UK.

Trevor Datson, a spokesman for UK Fisheries, said: “There will be no shortage of cod for cod and chips as a result. It will just be that none of the Arctic cod will be caught by British fishermen.”

The value to the British economy of the distant fishing business was last estimated at £32 million a year in 2018. If a deal is not reached in time, UK Fisheries is planning to sell the trawler, thus ending all hope of distant-waters fishing being revived by the company.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told Byline Times: “The UK has secured Fisheries Framework Agreements with Norway and the Faroe Islands, which provide the legal basis for annual negotiations on fishing opportunities and potential access to each other’s waters.

“Negotiations for fishing opportunities in 2021 will begin imminently.”

UPDATE 09/12/20. The European Union has offered trilateral talks with the UK and Norway on the conservation of fish stocks in the North Sea, it was revealed today. Victoria Atkins, the fishing minister, has accepted the idea but said that negotiations on the Uk’s share of fish quotas for next year should take precedence before any talks begin.

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