British fishermen will be able pay to avoid quotas after the UK leaves the European Union, it was claimed last night as the government unveiled its Brexit plans for the fishing industry.
The Scottish Government said the proposals would put fishing stocks at risk, but UK ministers and industry leaders said fishermen would be free to claim a bigger share of the catch in British waters.
Unveiling the government’s White Paper on the future of fishing outside the EU, Environment Secretary Michael Gove pledged to “take back control of our waters and revitalise our coastal communities”.
However, there was a warning from fishing leaders that the UK government had to so “show real backbone” in negotiations with the EU to deliver on its promises.
And following the row between Edinburgh and London over post-Brexit powers, including fishing regulations currently held by the EU, the Scottish Government said that it hadn’t been fully consulted.
The vast majority of the 12,000 fishermen in the UK supported Brexit to escape the EU Common Fisheries Policy, which imposed quotas while at the same time allowing boats from the Continent to catch fish in British waters.
Quotas saw boats sometimes forced to throw part of their catch back in the sea – known as discards – while coastal communities hold bitter memories of boats being scrapped to meet quotas for reduced fishing capacity.
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “As an island nation our fishing industry is the lifeblood of coastal communities around the UK.
“I have been clear that when we leave the EU we will take back control of our waters, while ensuring we don’t see our fishermen unfairly denied access to other waters.”
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “The White Paper enshrines the important elements of a sustainable future for our industry: allowing the UK to become an independent coastal state, to take charge of who catches what and where, and to resist any attempt to link access to our waters to access to EU markets.”
But the SNP fisheries secretary Fergus Ewing said that the White Paper trespassed into areas of fishing policy that remain devolved.
He said: “We have significant concerns as to whether some of the proposals, such as charging for fish caught in excess of quota, are viable if we are to prevent over-fishing and ensure sustainability.
“The paper completely ignores the critical importance of ongoing access to [EU] labour for the seafood processing sector and, whilst acknowledging seafood trade as ‘vital’, provides no detail whatsoever on how seafood exports will be protected from potentially damaging trade barriers.”