Brexit: Fishing industry must turn up the volume about its problems because Boris Johnson and co are not listening – Alistair Carmichael MP

Six months have now passed since we departed from the Common Fisheries Policy, from the European Union and from the frictionless trading relations we had before January.
Many in the fishing industry had high hopes for Brexit, but leaving the European Union has led to serious problems (Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire)Many in the fishing industry had high hopes for Brexit, but leaving the European Union has led to serious problems (Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire)
Many in the fishing industry had high hopes for Brexit, but leaving the European Union has led to serious problems (Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire)

In those six months, fishermen and the many businesses surrounding the industry in Scotland have felt let down by a government that promised them a “sea of opportunity” but delivered only red tape and disappointment.

It is time to take stock of the situation – and review the impact of this government’s decisions on our fishing industry – because the government will not do so itself.

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The year did not start in an auspicious manner, with seafood exporters rocked by new trade barriers erected with just days’ notice, leading to enormous losses in trade in the early weeks of January and the frankly humiliating situation of fishermen taking their catch all the way to Denmark to avoid the chaos our government created.

When I called an urgent debate on the growing disaster at the time, ministers dismissed them as “teething problems”. What we have seen since has put the lie to that claim.

Fishermen, processors and exporters are suffering from structural problems created by the new barriers put up between them and their biggest markets. They are crying out for help, for change, and for meaningful action from the government responsible – and are getting scant interest from Boris Johnson and his Cabinet.

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Many fishermen voted for Brexit because of the promises they were made by the Prime Minister and his lackeys, but when the time came to make good, they were nowhere to be found.

After six months of challenge and change for a supposedly “flagship” industry of Brexit, any responsible government would conduct its own public review of its fisheries policy. It speaks volumes that this government is doing its level best to act as though our supposedly “happier” fish no longer exist.

Absent any such accounting from the government, it is up to us to take ministers to task and demand answers on what has become quite a comprehensive range of failures on fishing. That is why I am forcing a Commons debate today and have been calling on fishermen and other industry figures to join me in making their voice heard.

Every fisherman, every processor and every exporter I have spoken to in the past months has presented me with a litany of frustrations with the government. These run the gamut, from lost markets due to trade barriers, unfulfilled promises over quota uplift or simply lack of access to needed worker support.

I have had letters from isles skippers who cannot get the crew they need.

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I have heard from shellfish exporters who are sick of a government that can only blame others for its mistakes.

I have met with industry leaders who believed that leaving the Commons Fisheries Policy was a chance to change the way we manage quotas and to enforce tougher rules for those who act irresponsibly at sea.

The list is long but ministers have not listened. It is time to turn up the volume.

After six months, today’s debate is a chance to change the narrative – and make our voices heard.

Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland

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