Michael Gove: Brexit could boost Scots fishing industry

Leaving the European Union will create a 'sea of opportunity' for the fishing industry, the new Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said.

A fishing boat lies idle in Ullapool. Michael Gove has said Brexit will offer the fishing industry an opportunity for expansion. Picture: Jon Savage/TSPL

Brexit will enable the industry to “dramatically increase” the amount of fish caught and set a “far more sensible, environmentally wise policy”, Mr Gove said.

He said he didn’t think anyone envisaged anything other than a free trade arrangement between Britain and the European Union, and that it is clearly in the EU 27’s interests to come to a deal.

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With Brexit negotiations having just got under way, the UK Government minister is visiting Peterhead, in north-east Scotland, on Friday to speak to key figures from the fishing industry.

Many of those in the sector backed Brexit, and Mr Gove will have talks with Bertie Armstrong, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, about prospects outside of the EU.

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Mr Gove told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “There is a sea of opportunity for us out there as we leave the European Union.

“I don’t think anyone envisages anything other than a free trade arrangement between Britain and the European Union.

“No deal is indeed better than a bad deal, but I think that, because we have a trade deficit with the European Union, because they sell more to us than we sell to them not just in agriculture but also in other manufactured goods as well, it’s clearly in the EU 27’s interests to come to a deal, but more than that, it’s in our interests to be able to dramatically increase the amount of fish that we catch.

“We can do so because once we take back control of our territorial waters, we can decide who comes here, we can decide on what terms and we can also have a far more sensible, environmentally wise policy which enables us to conserve and grow the stock of an amazing renewable resource.”

He said that leaving the EU allows the UK to set higher environmental standards and reap additional economic benefits.

He told the BBC: “It’s sometimes been the case, not just in fisheries but in agriculture and other areas, that people have tried to suggest that high environmental standards work against economic success.

“The two go together and the European Union has inhibited our ability to make sure that we get the right economic and the right environmental results.”

The Queen’s Speech, setting out the Government’s priorities for the next two years, includes legislation on both fisheries and agriculture in the wake of Brexit.

Mr Armstrong said: “ We are delighted with the commitment made to taking back the beneficial control and management of our rich and sustainable seafood resources.”

The UK Government has pledged a period of engagement on the Fisheries Bill starting this summer, involving the devolved administrations, fishermen, trade organisations, fish processors and others.

Under the devolution settlement, much of the responsibility for fishing is devolved to Holyrood, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she remains ‘’extremely concerned’’ about a Brexit power-grab by Westminster, saying there ‘’appears to be plans to centralise power in the hands of Whitehall as powers comes back from Brussels’’.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “The Scottish Government will always stand up for our fishing industry, which too often has been let down by the UK Government.

“We have written to the UK Government on numerous occasions to ask for a guarantee that access to Scottish waters will not be given away as part of a Brexit deal and they have so far refused to provide any such reassurances.

“As well as having sought this in writing I have myself on several occasions asked for this assurance face to face with the Fisheries Minister and both the former and current Secretaries of State for Rural Affairs.

“We have been consistently clear that repatriated EU competences must return to the Scottish Parliament in areas where it is wholly or partly responsible, such as agriculture, fisheries, environmental policy and justice.

“That means there should be absolutely no question of the UK Government attempting to reserve powers - as they have indicated is their intention - in devolved areas like fishing, and we would not recommend the Scottish Parliament consents to any such proposals, which we would see as clearly unacceptable.

“Holyrood must continue to have the powers to decide fisheries management appropriate for Scottish circumstances. Under the Scotland Act, all powers which are not explicitly reserved to the UK Government are devolved and that includes fisheries powers.”