Fishermen say Brexit is 'opportunity'

European boats catch more fish and shellfish in UK seas than the local fleet, according to new research.

Skippers from other EU countries landed 58 per cent of the UK fish and shelfish catch. Picture: David Cheskin/PA Wire
Skippers from other EU countries landed 58 per cent of the UK fish and shelfish catch. Picture: David Cheskin/PA Wire

A report produced by the NAFC Marine Centre at the University of the Highlands and Islands has revealed that fishing boats from other EU countries caught nearly 60 per cent of the fish and shellfish landed between 2012 and 2014 from the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which stretches 200 nautical miles out from the British coast.

The study, commissioned by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), shows boats from outside Britain net around 650,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish in the UK EEZ every year, with a value of more than £400 million.

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In contrast, UK boats fishing elsewhere in the EU landed just 90,000 tonnes a year, worth £100m.

In Scotland more than half of all catches were landed by EU boats from outside the UK, with visiting vessels netting 386,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish worth £210m.

More than half of the hake and saithe, almost three-quarters of the herring, 86 per cent of the horse mackerel and 94 per cent of the blue whiting landed from the Scottish part of the zone by EU skippers were caught by foreign boats.

Scottish waters are some of the most productive, and fishing has major social, economic and cultural importance north of the border.

Scottish fishermen have described the catch figures as shocking, claiming Brexit offers a unique opportunity to take control of national waters for the benefit of coastal communities and the economy.

They say leaving the EU will allow the UK to govern its EEZ, meaning foreign vessels could be banned from fishing within the 200-mile boundary without permission.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the SFF, said: “This detailed analysis of these landing figures is a bombshell that reveals the truly shocking extent of how our rich fishing grounds have been given away in recent decades.

“Brexit provides a sea of opportunity to breathe new life into our coastal communities by ensuring increased catching opportunities and fit-for-purpose management.”

He called for the UK and Scottish governments to “take heed” of the findings and work together to get the best possible deal for fishermen.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are aware of the feelings of the fishing industry and are engaging closely with them and listening to their concerns.

“Our priority continues to be pursuing all options to protect Scotland’s relationship with the EU and are committed to ensuring Scotland’s interests are at the heart of any EU decisions taken on fishing.”