Government must land Norway deal to help fishing vessels like Kirkella thrive: Sir Barney White-Spunner

It has been my privilege over the past couple of years to highlight through the pages of The Yorkshire Post the hugely important story of Britain’s distant-waters fishing fleet as we adjust to 
the consequences of Brexit, and of the real and immediate threat faced by the crew and families of the Kirkella, pride of our distant-waters fishing fleet.

Ricky Campbell, deckhand, who has worked for three years on the Kirkella. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Well, we’re reaching the endgame of the UK’s post-Brexit fisheries talks with Norway so it is now more vital than ever that the politicians who will decide the fate of this economically, culturally and socially vital industry are made aware not only of the consequences of failure, but also of the prize that is within their grasp.

Kirkella, which is owned by UK Fisheries, will soon begin her voyage home to Hull from the icy waters off Svalbard, where she has been making the most of what is the only fishing opportunity that she is guaranteed for this year after setting sail in late January.

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We hope to have our fantastic crew back with their families for Easter or soon afterwards.

At the same time, Britain’s fisheries negotiators have been handed a once-in-a-generation opportunity to land a deal that could finally offer our crews and our business a badly-needed degree of certainty for the future.

After weeks of wrangling, news came in this month that the EU and Norway had struck a deal that, among other provisions, gives the EU a quota of 10,000 tonnes of Arctic cod in Norwegian coastal waters for this year.

Now, nothing to do with fisheries is ever really simple, but what this means is that Norway has, according to our estimates, about 25,000 tonnes of Arctic cod that it could make available to the UK fleet.

All our negotiators need to do to land this precious catch is to play their strongest cards, which are access to UK fisheries and markets.

Our negotiators must keep their eyes on this prize in any settlement.

We know the Norwegians are ready to do a deal.

They badly need access to our waters and markets to preserve their own fishing industry.

We have been campaigning for years to save the distant-waters fishing industry in the north-east.

Those efforts have not just been for the sake of our own business and our crews, but for the wider future of an industry whose roots and history run deep in the Humber region.

But now we know exactly what the UK might achieve with resolve and ambition in its talks with Norway, a pragmatic nation that is prepared to give us a fair deal in order to get what it wants.

Unless and until we get a deal with Norway, we have literally no idea when Kirkella’s next trip will be.

As a British company we cannot fish without a licence issued by the UK’s Single Issuing Authority, which itself is dependent on quotas negotiated by Defra.

We were grateful to be issued with a licence for our current Svalbard trip, but this represents just a small fraction of what we need to run a viable business in 2021 and beyond.

Landing a good share of Norway’s ‘spare’ Arctic cod could lead not only to a renaissance in UK distant-waters fishing and provide a huge boost to the downstream industries that depend on UK Fisheries, it could also help rescue the Government’s battered reputation on fisheries.

But for this we need our negotiators to show ambition and imagination – and not just settle for the first offer our partners place on the table.

Having directly linked trade and access in its Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the EU, there is no possible reason for the Government not to use its full bargaining power with Norway, freed of the redundant dogma that trade talks and access talks are somehow separate processes.

UK Fisheries and its shareholders have tens of millions of pounds of inward investment that we are willing to commit to the future of distant-waters fishing in the Humberside region, but no investor would do so without confidence that the industry has the opportunity to prosper and grow.

Now is the time for the Government to show that it shares our belief in the future of British fishing.

Sir Barney White-Spunner is chairman of UK Fisheries’ Advisory Board

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