The South West fishing industry faces potential destruction from a “no deal” Brexit coupled with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a leading industry figure says.
Jim Portus, chief executive of the South Western Fish Producer Organisation, said there is concern a “bad deal” or “no deal”, when the transition period ends in January 2021, will be disastrous for the UK fishing industry, which led the march for Brexit.
He said: “I don’t want to see fishermen sacrificed for the UK to get a good deal. We want to be part of that good deal. We’re in a situation where we could face a double dose of nightmare with Covid and Brexit and our fishing industry risks being destroyed.
“But I remain optimistic that there will be a good deal as it is in the UK and the EU’s interests to get one.”
His words come as it is revealed Newlyn, in Cornwall, is officially the biggest fishing port in England when it comes to tonnage.
According to figures released by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), the Cornish port landed the most fish in terms of tonnage, mainly because of the success of the Cornish pilchard fishery that yielded more than 4,000 tonnes.
Some 13,900 tonnes of fish were landed in Newlyn in 2019, compared with 12,500 tonnes in Brixham and 8,900 tonnes in Plymouth.
However, the figures show Brixham, in South Devon, was England’s most valuable fishing port with a staggering £36million worth of fish landed in 2019.
Fish value landed last year in the three ports was: £13.4million in Plymouth, £31.7million in Newlyn, and £36.6million in Brixham.
The figures come with a serious health warning, however, as both the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit could still cause economic hardship despite the success of the region’s ports.
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Mr Portus said the figures were very much those for a normal year and showed thriving ports in the region. Looking at the monthly stats from the MMO, the months of lockdown in April and May 2020 have, unsurprisingly, seen a large drop in the number of fish landed in all UK ports including Newlyn and Brixham.
He said the coronavirus pandemic had shown what a “bad” Brexit deal could look like with no access to continental markets and domestic consumers not eating British fish but preferring to import exotic species from the Far East.
“The crabbing sector which exports to China was the first to shut down and has been the longest affected with coronavirus,” Mr Portus said. “They’re barely keeping their heads above water and have been trying to develop a local trade.
“But old habits die hard. Brits want to import tiger prawns and other fish from the Far East and yet, as an island nation surrounding by the sea with some of the richest waters, we don’t eat our own fish. For me that’s always been crazy.
“We prefer to turn that fish into hard cash but when suddenly that’s taken away as happened with the pandemic we’re wandering around like headless chickens asking people to eat our fish. We must value our fishermen as much as we value getting out of the EU.”