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Brexit and Covid have crippled fishing communities, we must not turn our backs

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IT has been nearly three weeks since the turn of the clocks into 2021, and the UK became an independent coastal state.

In this time, we have noticed the public have seemingly grown more impatient with listening to the gripes of our fishermen. But here is why, more than ever before, we need to support our fishermen and not turn our backs on them.

It’s a common belief that fishermen voted for Brexit, but as reported by New Economics Foundation (NEF) in 2019: “Fishing is not one singular business but rather multiple, distinct groups of vessels operating within the broader fishing industry.

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“There are vessels – typically the larger ones – that have fishing quotas allowing them to catch specified quantities of key species.”

READ MORE: Boris Johnson claims British fish industry faces post-Brexit ‘El Dorado’

It is these vessels who were set to benefit from “taking back control of our waters” through the addition of added quotas. But there is also a majority of the fishing fleet (79%) comprised of vessels that do not have their own fishing quota.

These vessels must fish from government quota pools, which hold just 2% of the UK quota, or target non-quota species like shellfish.

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These vessels – typically operated by self-employed or share (freelance) fishermen – sell their catch locally or to Europe. For them, taking back control is less important than having good trade links.

These fishermen tend to live in isolated coastal communities across the UK and are not affiliated with powerful fishing organisations and, subsequently, their voice is often never heard. As the NEF said: “Media coverage of Brexit and fisheries has almost exclusively focused on control of UK waters as a means of increasing UK holdings of quota to benefit fishers who can access this potential quota gain.

“To put this into figures – the top three fishing organisations (who represent larger vessels) received 85% of the media coverage on fisheries and Brexit, while organisations specifically representing the small-scale fleet received only 2% of the media coverage.”

The majority of the UK’s fishing fleet have been cut with a double-edged sword.

Covid-19 has wiped them of their local markets, whilst Brexit – and the implementation of poor legislation – has caused irreversible damage to their export markets. Many of these fishermen have hit rock bottom, crippled by debt taken on over the last year just to keep their vessels moored.

These men, who single-handedly support their families and enable employment in their coastal communities, are barely clinging on. Prices at the market are so low that the fish landed barely covers the operating costs. But faced with little choice, they go out, because they are fishermen, this is what they do, they know of nothing else but to face the harsh weather, the danger of the seas, and to soldier on.

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READ MORE: SCFF: Brexit has shown fishing communities are pawns of politicians’ whims

We – the British public – are their only hope of surviving this crisis. We must, if we can, support our local fleets and buy their seafood and not the cheap, industrial fished, imported, alternatives.

By doing so, we not only keep the industry alive, we create fewer food miles and carbon emissions, build stronger local economies, reduce waste, and consume fresher, more nutritious food.

We are at a critical point with our UK fisheries – failing to support them now will result in the loss of livelihoods and an industry that cannot easily be recouped. Fishing is a highly skilled profession, taught not through organised mass classroom activities but through the strength of individual relationships, with knowledge passed down from generations.

Aarik Persaud is one half of the husband and wife team which run Cormacks’ Seafood

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