I have secured an Adjournment Debate on fisheries in the House of Commons, and in my opening speech I will be letting Secretary of State George Eustice know in no uncertain terms how completely he has failed our fishers, their families and the Humber region.
Our distant-waters fleet is now on life support. He must help our crews survive in 2021 and then, as he negotiates for 2022, he must change the approach that has prevented the UK from landing a sensible fishing deal with any of our traditional partners in whose waters Yorkshiremen have fished for generations.
Not long ago, our fishermen were promised a “sea of opportunity”. Now, small fishing boats tied up and idle along the Yorkshire coast and beyond.
High-quality catches are left rotting on the quayside with our fishermen now ensnared in a net of red tape that makes exporting their catches to the Continental markets untenable.
If that wasn’t damaging enough, the UK’s once proud distant-waters fleet, whose last remaining vessels still bring jobs and great economic benefit to Hull, has been holed below the waterline by a government that has failed to secure a single fisheries deal with any of its northern coastal neighbours. That’s right, not a single one.
Until this year, Kirkella, a Hull-based ice-class distant waters trawler, was bringing home one in every dozen portions of cod and haddock sold through the UK’s fish and chip shops. She was the only UK vessel catching in the icy waters off the coast of Norway.
But Kirkella is now in dry dock, and the fish she once caught will be replaced by the self-same fish, caught by Norwegian boats and exported tariff-free into the UK market.
Two decades ago, Kirkella’s Dutch and Icelandic owners saved this industry when no British investor would. They acquired the failing remnants of the UK’s distant waters fleet and amalgamated those investments in Hull.
Since then they have invested more than £180m into the business and, until now, they were able to safeguard the livelihoods of hundreds of UK based crew and their families.
Not only that, Kirkella’s owners had earmarked another £100m in future investment in the hope and expectation of new or better fishing opportunities promised by the Government after Brexit.
In short, they are a great example of the sort of inward investment that this country should be seeking as part of the Government’s much-trumpeted “Global Britain”. Yet the Secretary of State appears to have hung them out to dry.
As one of the first moves in the UK’s new trading relationship with the world, this sends entirely the wrong message to foreign capital considering investing in our industries.
George Eustice claims that in seeking deals with our neighbours he is looking for the best, balanced deal for the entire UK fleet.
However, that balance currently seems to lie in equal damage to both sides – not equal benefit. It’s difficult to see how a no-deal with Norway, Greenland or the Faroes benefits any part of the UK fleet, other than a handful of super-rich Scottish fishing barons who are happy to mop up the quotas which were previously swapped with Norway to allow Humberside fishermen to work.
This Government made big promises to the UK fishing industry, and I am sad to say it has reneged on all of them. It failed the entire UK fleet in negotiations with the EU and it is now set to preside over the end of our distant waters fleet.
It is a sorry state of affairs when the fleet which fed this country through two world wars is finally sunk not by enemy action, but by decision – or indecision – of its own government.
So, if the Secretary of State is not on the side of the fishermen who put their trust in him, whose side is he on? Because right now it isn’t the fishermen of Yorkshire.
Tonight in Westminster, Karl and I will demand that George Eustice personally contacts his opposite number in Norway without delay to look for ways of striking deals – for this year and the next – so that the fishermen of the Humber region, along with those involved in the supply chains, can be confident in a future for themselves and their families.
Much-needed investment in Hull and Humberside is ready and waiting and this opportunity must be grasped. If he will not, it is proof that he is content to see this once-proud industry slip below the water for good.
Emma Hardy is the Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle.
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