Whitby fisherman says 'crews will be worse off in 2021 than before they left the EU'

In nearly 50 years as a fisherman Arnold Locker has seen it all. He was fishing when the UK joined the Common Market in 1973 and lived through the heartache of decommissioning and burning of boats that followed in the mid 1980s.

Arnold Locker, chairman of Locker Trawlers in Whitby. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

The outcome of the Brexit trade deal has left him and many others bitterly disappointed.

Mr Locker, chairman of Locker Trawlers in Whitby, and former chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, believes Environment Secretary George Eustice should resign.

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He says this time the betrayal of fishing communities is worse, because politicians like Mr Eustice, Michael Gove and Prime Minister Boris Johnson "knew exactly what they were doing when they devastated coastal communities."

Mr Locker believes Environment Secretary George Eustice should resign. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

He said: "This was billed as getting fishing back and the fleet back and our coastal communities back. If I've listened to George Eustice once I must have listened to him 100 times.

"We have even held meetings with Defra on how they were going to share out all the extra fish.

"What extra fish? There isn't any. Certainly not for the port of Whitby or Scarborough. We will be worse off in January than what we were when we started as a full member of the EU.

"If George Eustice thinks that's a good deal, I'd hate to think what he thinks is a bad deal. I think he should resign, that's my personal opinion."

The promise that the UK would take full control of its fishing waters after decades of being bound by the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy – where quotas were set for how many of each type of fish members are allowed to catch – has been a central part of the Brexit debate.

The way the system has developed meant European nations had more rights to fish in UK waters than British fleets had in European waters, in return for frictionless access to sell our catch in the valuable European markets.

But despite its symbolic importance, fishing represents just 0.1 per cent of the British economy, leading to fears the interests of the sector would be sacrificed during negotiations with Brussels.

The Brexit deal creates a five-and-a-half year adjustment period, starting this month, in which the value of the catch the UK can take in its own Economic Exclusion Zone will increase incrementally up to an average of 25 per cent.

In monetary terms this will be worth approximately £140m per year to the UK fishing industry by 2026.

At the end of the adjustment period both sides will go back to the negotiating table, although Mr Johnson has claimed “there is no theoretical limit beyond those placed by science or conservation on the quantity of our own fish that we can fish in our waters” after this point.

Negotiations over fishing rights slowed down the Brexit trade talks, with quantities of each species of fish a potential sticking point.

And the result is a deal where British quotas of some fish will barely change from the old system.

Mr Locker's boats target "demersal" species - cod, haddock, whiting, saithe (coley) and plaice.

When it comes to saithe, after the end of the five and a half year transition period, they will be getting just one per cent extra quota.

A headache for UK fishermen is that they will no longer be able to do "international swaps" with the French, the Germans and Danish for species that they run out of quotas for.

Mr Locker, whose son Andrew is current chairman of the NFFO, and whose other son James is skipper of the Victory Rose, said: "We usually got around 4,000 to 5,000 tonnes a year (of saithe) and we need 15,000 tonnes a year.

"That fish used to come in from Germany and France (in an international swap). That can't happen now."

Lockers Trawlers number only two vessels - they used to have 15 - and they land into Peterhead in Scotland or Denmark.

They join a handful of other "white fish" boats operating out of Scarborough and Grimsby.

The large shellfishing fleet out of Bridlington, Scarborough and Hornsea, shouldn't be badly affected as they don't operate on quotas, although there are concerns about disruption to exports post-Brexit, particularly when sending live shellfish.

Mr Locker, who has been fishing for 47 years, said: "Shellfishermen should still have their markets. But for the white fish fleet, the people of Whitby, who were hoping to get back into the white fish sector and have their local markets, it won't happen.

"How do you think my fishermen, my sons feel when they are having to steam past those vessels that are getting a really good living and we can't fish?

"You have to have a big heart to think it will change in 2026 (the end of the transition period)."