Unfortunately, for all their bluster on making fishing a priority after Brexit, the Tories have proved once again that they just don’t get it.
In setting up a new Trade and Agriculture Commission, a body that will bring together farmers, retailers and consumers to advise government on future trade policy, Defra and DIT (Department for International Trade) seem to be on the right lines.
The creation of the Commission seems to recognise the need for close collaboration in policymaking on food production and trade – something any farmer would tell you was common sense – so why have our fishermen been left out?
The new Commission will be an important means of securing opportunities at home and abroad for UK farmers, maintaining environmental and animal welfare standards and looking after the interests of consumers.
It is true that fishing represents only a small part of our total economy, but the Government should not undervalue the thousands of jobs fishing creates not just on boats large and small, but in processing, logistics and food service.
They are also at risk of ignoring the cultural and historical importance of fishing as part of our maritime heritage and our communities.
The creation of this Commission is to be welcomed and the NFU and its supporters congratulated for their successful campaign.
However, there is concern that the Commission may lack the teeth to affect the Government’s trade policy and that its recommendations will come too late to impact upon the contents of the trade agreements currently being negotiated with the US and others.
Labour supported amendments to the Agriculture and Trade Bills to prevent food being imported if produced to lower standards than those that must be met by our own British farmers – an issue highlighted by The Yorkshire Post’s own Editorial last week. But these amendments were voted down by the Government, despite its manifesto pledge not to compromise on standards in future trade deals.
Boris Johnson’s government often seems to be guided more by dogma than it is by common sense, but even by those standards this is a negligent failure to look after the interests of those thousands of fishermen dependent on international trade.
While trade and agriculture interests are brought together in the same Commission, the Government seems content that fisheries and trade policies do not mix.
For decades in Britain we have imported most of the fish that we like to eat (largely cod, haddock and salmon) from waters controlled by Norway, Greenland, Iceland and the Faroes, while we have exported most of the fish we catch in our waters, mainly to the EU27.
This is all down to national tastes and historical fishing patterns, and it means that for most people in the industry, as well as for retailers and consumers, the number one priority is a healthy cross-border trading environment.
Fishing and trade are not only mutually dependent, they are virtually one and the same thing.
Like many industries, British fishing has suffered heavily during the pandemic. One of the reasons for this was the virtual collapse of the markets in the EU where we sell our high- quality shellfish and other specialist catches.
While prices for some seafood collapsed by up to 80 per cent, UK consumers did not switch to langoustines and chips, but stuck to their imported favourites.
UK fishermen still need an open and frictionless global market to trade in, and open waters to fish in, while processors will need a good supply of fish from UK waters and beyond, as well as an open export market to sell their products into.
British retailers and consumers will need a plentiful supply of fresh fish from waters such as those between Greenland and Norway where the fish for our national dish are most abundant.
For the sake of the fishermen of Hull, Bridlington and Whitby, and for coastal communities all around the country, the Government must lay ideology aside and recognise that fishing and trade go together in exactly the same way as agriculture and trade.
Fishing is not a second-class industry, and our fishermen deserve a Fisheries and Trade Commission to protect their interests now.
Emma Hardy is Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle.
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