Scarborough fisherman says they are 'being punished for leaving Europe' as demand slumps

Scarborough fisherman Fred Normandale blames “bloody-minded EU Commissioners” among the reasons the boat he bought more than 30 years ago is currently restricted in how much fishing she can do.

Fishing boats are pictured moored in the harbour at Scarborough Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

Since December 18, Scarborough fishing vessel Emulator, which Mr Normandale bought in 1983, has done only three short trips.

Part-owner Mr Normandale says the skipper was told by the company they supply scallops to he can only fish during the week and is limited to what he can catch.

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Emulator started out fishing for cod and haddock when the whitefish fleet out of Scarborough numbered around 30.

Mr Normandale said quotas had reduced to the point where they were exhausted in a couple of months in the summer, and so fishes for prawns and scallops in the winter months.

He thinks Covid is a factor in the current downturn – restaurants in Europe are not open to sell seafood.

But he also believes the EU “is making sure we are being punished because we left Europe”.

Managing director of Amble-based Coquet Island Shellfish Ltd Tom Newton, said Brexit was currently costing the firm around £15,000 a week.

Previously when they bought scallops and prawns off boats in Scarborough and Whitby, it only took 24 hours from its reaching to the factory to arriving in France.

“With the best will in the world, it now takes 72 hours, probably nearer 96,” he said.

Turnover in January slumped to £500,000 from £1.5m in 2020. One of the many problems causing sleepless nights is that customers are losing confidence.

Mr Martin said: “If they can buy from the Dutch or Danish, they can be sure it will be there on day two.

“For me, voting for Brexit was like asking a turkey to vote for Christmas. This has been the worst seven weeks in my 30 years in the industry.”

Meanwhile a month after his trucks took part in a Westminster protest, the boss of a Bridlington firm says the Government’s progress in resolving the post-Brexit red tape stopping them exporting live crabs and lobsters to the Continent has been “painfully slow”.

Usually Gary Hodgson’s business, Venture Seafoods, would have sent over around 25 consignments to France, but instead the shellfish have been processed in Bridlington instead.

“For us personally we are still not in a position to send,” he said. “Just on our exports last year, which were down because of Covid, we are looking at a £70,000 cost-a-year, just for export documentation and a fiscal representative in France – not including our own administrative costs in the UK.”

Now is a quiet time of the year, but he warns that “when it ramps up, the system is really going to struggle” with delays at the borders and increased mortality in the shellfish, leading to financial loss.

The Government announced details of a £23m fund for UK seafood exporters hit by Brexit this week, however Mr Hodgson said that was a “joke”.

“Nobody on a team meeting with Defra, none of the 58 (fishing businesses from round the UK) thought they would be successful in applying,” he said.

Last weekend the owner of Baron Shellfish Limited, the first lobster tank business in Bridlington, revealed he has been forced to close and alluded to Brexit restraints as the main reason.

However, Mr Hodgson said: “My brother and I worked 25 years building this up and I’m not going to let this stop us. We have 35 staff and we are not going to close the doors.”

One of the port’s three landing companies, Independent Shellfishermen’s Co-operative, has exported live crab, lobster and velvet crab four times to France and twice to Spain this year.

Company secretary Jo Ackers said the firm worked hard to prepare and the first two weeks were “panic stations”, but the company is at the “easier end of the scale” as it sells direct to French and Spanish traders, whose lorries come to Bridlington to collect the shellfish.

She said: “I had a friend ring to ask, ‘Is it right that fishing is finished in Bridlington?’ Baron Shellfish was a small family-run business which didn’t have the resources to completely change its corporate strategy, as he would have had to after Brexit. But the rest of us will be fine because of the way we already operate.”

Harbour Commissioner and fisheries consultant Andy Wheeler believes new markets in Asia could provide a solution to the post-Brexit problems plaguing the UK’s shellfishing fleet.

He said: “The teething problems are causing hundreds of thousands of losses. I have a client in Scotland who was £100,000 down for January.”

However despite the concern, he said, there is also optimism. “We have new vessels coming into the fleet and there’s potentially a lot more markets which can be looked at.

“We are hopeful that there will be solutions to exports to all possible markets through more free-trade agreements with countries such as Japan as well as sorting out the teething problems of exports to the EU.”

However, he expressed frustration with Ministers, including Victoria Prentis who infamously revealed she was too busy with Christmas celebrations to focus on reading the Brexit fishing deal. He said: “Even I read it on Christmas Eve.”

East Yorkshire MP Sir Greg Knight said the Government was working “flat out” to resolve a mix of “red tape, teething problems and unfamiliarity with new processes” facing exporters.

He said businesses were telling him one day paperwork could go through and the next documents completed exactly the same way were refused.

In one case customs officers complained that paperwork was completed in blue and not black ink. The Government is looking at refining the rules of a £23m fund for seafood exporters, following criticism.

Sir Greg said: “There is some scope for flexibility, this is what I am told.

“The Government are working flat out on it. It’s always difficult when you have come out of an arrangement you’ve been in for 40 years and new rules are out in place.”

Few people realise that Bridlington is Europe’s lobster capital, or that the majority of the shellfish ends up in Spain, France and Portugal. More than 300 tonnes were landed in 2018.