A £52m trawler that should be the pride of Britain’s fishing fleet is moored at Hull, denied access to the waters on which she and her crew depend for their livelihoods for the next year.
The Kirkella ought to have been a symbol of how a great maritime tradition is being carried into the future, a state-of-the-art vessel that embodies the hardships and risks seafarers endure for the sake of Britain’s love of its national dish, fish and chips.
But no. Instead, this ship is emblematic of broken promises over post-Brexit trade deals, Government incompetence and continuing ministerial disregard for coastal communities.
The Kirkella has been left in distress not by storms in the sub-Arctic waters where she catches about 10 per cent of the fish that Brits buy with their chips, but by a failure to conclude what should have been a simple trade deal with Norway.
This, let’s remember, is a country that reached out to Britain immediately after the Brexit vote, expressing its willingness to strike deals of mutual benefit.
Yet the Government has bungled it. Instead of the Kirkella’s catch ending up on our plates, it will be imported cod landed by Norwegian vessels, with the consequence that the cost of a Friday night visit to the chippie will likely rise.
Thanks to Defra’s negotiating skills, Britain has failed even to maintain the rights our vessels have had to fish in Norwegian waters for decades, let alone improve upon them.
The crew of the Kirkella won’t be the only seafarers facing economic disaster as a result. The anger – and anguish – of fishing organisations is entirely understandable. The CEO of UK Fisheries, Jane Sandell, hit the nail on the head when she told this newspaper last week that they had been promised a “sea of opportunity, not the scuppering of an entire industry”.
What an empty promise that turned out to be. Only weeks ago, a long-established shellfish company in Bridlington – Britain’s leading port for landing crab and lobster – announced that it was ceasing trading because of the difficulty of exporting its catch to Europe owing to post-Brexit red tape.
Fishing loomed large in the Brexit debate, even though it is only a tiny part of the UK economy – worth £437m a year, or about 0.02 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The national figures, though, don’t tell the whole story. In coastal communities like Bridlington and Hull, fishing and the processing of the catch are of immense importance.
What fishing represents matters more than the figures suggest, too. It goes to the very core of the notion of what an island nation is, and that’s why it attracted such attention during the Brexit process.
After years of being hamstrung by EU quotas, there was going to be a boom in the industry, with British vessels able to catch more for both the domestic market and exports. Ships putting to sea and returning laden with the catch was a potent symbol of what independence from the EU represented.
What a mirage that has turned out to be. The plight of the Kirkella cannot be viewed as anything other than a disgraceful lack of Government regard for the fishing industry.
Would it have made such a mess of negotiations with Norway if the industry at stake had been financial services or car manufacturing instead of cod?
No, of course not.
There would have been a personal intervention by senior ministers in order to get a deal done.
A failure to treat the fishing industry with the seriousness it deserves is not only down to a failure to give it the attention it deserves. It is yet another glaring example of the Government’s neglect of the regions.
If this were London’s financial or legal establishment being let down, the cries of blue murder would bring ministers to their senses pretty sharpish, but voices from the Yorkshire coast resonate only faintly, if at all.
But they need to be heard. Our fishing industry must not be scuppered by either indifference or incompetence on the part of London-centric ministers or civil servants.
What the Kirkella represents is nothing less than a betrayal of an industry and those who work in it. This Government should get back to the negotiating table with Norway without delay and hammer out a deal that lets her put to sea.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.