Let UK trawlers like Hull’s Kirkella go back to sea and stop 20,000 tonnes of Russian fish being impoted to Britain – Sir Barney White-Spunner
As a former military man myself, I know only too well what destruction Putin’s weaponry is inflicting on this democratic European nation, and of course we must do everything in our power – including imposing the tightest possible economic sanctions on Moscow – to stop it.
What is rather less commendable, however, is a regrettable lack of lateral thinking in Westminster regarding some of the consequences for our own industries of sanctions on Putin.
There is an obvious and immediate opportunity that we can – and must take – that could deprive Russia of a valuable source of hard currency while benefiting the beleaguered fishermen of the Humber region.
Did you know that we import, either directly or indirectly, about 20,000 tonnes of frozen whitefish fillets like cod and haddock from Russia each year?
This trade is worth about £200m, cash that Moscow is only too grateful for as Western governments and companies gradually turn off the taps.
It goes without saying that we should stop this trade immediately, and that we should do everything in our power to seek alternative sources of whitefish for our national dish.
This might take the form of increased imports from trading partners like Norway, of course, but there is a far better solution that is very close at hand.
The governments of the UK and Greenland are currently in negotiations surrounding the future of our long-standing cooperation on trade and fisheries.
I say “long-standing” in that the two nations have in the past both benefited from these arrangements.
However, for no good reason, UK vessels such as UK Fisheries’ state-of-the-art freezer trawler Kirkella have not been able to fish in Greenland’s waters for over a year.
Defra and the Department for International Trade have simply failed to secure any access for British vessels thus far.
More importantly, last year our negotiators secured only a derisory quota from Norway, meaning that what was once the most important fishing zone for our distant waters fleet is now closed to us.
While we are, due to treaty arrangements that are almost 100 years old, still able to fish off Svalbard, this represents only about a third of Kirkella’s theoretical annual capacity – and you can’t run a business on that.
It would seem simple good sense for our negotiators to be making every effort – right now – to secure good access to Greenland’s waters for UK vessels so that we can reduce or eliminate our reliance on Russian fish.
To do that, all they will have to do is offer tariff-free access to the UK market for Greenland’s exports of shrimp. This is an important part of their economy, and we know they would listen.
Moreover, DIT and Defra need to sit up and listen to the long-standing demands of the Yorkshire fishing industry for a fair deal with Norway.
Once again, Norway’s fisheries exports to the UK are worth hundreds of millions of pounds each year, most of which attracts no import tariffs whatsoever.
And yet UK vessels have, since Brexit, effectively been banned from their waters.
In the next round of negotiations, the UK must not simply sell our crews and their families short as they have done in the past.
The £200m we are currently sending to Russia should be kept here at home, benefiting jobs and investment in the North East and not Putin’s Tsarist ambitions.
Sir Barney White-Spunner is the advisory board chairman of UK Fisheries.
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