The failure of the UK government to seal a fishing quota deal with Norway – despite heralding a “historic” Brexit agreement with the country last year – is a disaster that have serious consequences, say fishery leaders.
“This is actually a loss of real fishing opportunities,” said Barrie Deas, the chief executive of the National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisations, “and in that sense we’ve gone backwards”.
The North Atlantic is key to UK fishing interests because it provides a large stock of cod and haddock for the nation’s fish and chip shops.
Andrew Crook, the president of the National Federation of Fish Friers, warned that it could increase the price of fish and chips.
Peter Bruce, who skippers the Peterhead-registered white-fish trawler Budding Rose, told the Press and Journal that the failure to reach an agreement on the UK and Norway’s shared fisheries for 2021 was a “disaster” and would cause “major problems”.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) insisted it had always been clear that it would agree to deals only “if they are balanced and in the interests of the UK fishing industry”.
The UK Fisheries chief executive, Jane Sandell, said: “George Eustice [the environment secretary] owes our crews and the Humberside region an explanation as to why Defra was unable even to maintain the rights we have had to fish in Norwegian waters for decades, never mind the boasts of a ‘Brexit bonus’, which has turned to disaster.”
She fears that hundreds of jobs in Humberside will be at risk, with her own firm expecting 40% of the business it had in previous years.
Last October, the UK signed an agreement with Norway that it hailed as its first post-Brexit deal as an independent sovereign state, but talks on the exact quotas collapsed on Friday.
Both sides had mutually agreed that it was time to put an end to the negotiations, the government said in a statement.
“Brexit has undoubtedly created a series of challenges for the Norwegian fishing industry. It has proven extremely difficult to get an agreement with the UK on access to [fishing] areas and a quota exchange for 2021,” said the Norwegian fisheries minister, Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen.
“In regard to the possibility of reciprocal access to fishing quotas in our respective territorial waters in stocks that we share, our views were too far apart to reach an agreement.”
The UK government said it had offered a “fair deal” but the two sides were “too far apart” to agree a deal this year.
It means that Norwegian fishers will not be able to fish in British waters and and vice versa this year.
In March the EU, Britain and Norway reached a three-way agreement, the first since Brexit, for the overall level of allowable catches in the North Sea.
But the three parties still had to reach bilateral agreements on quota exchange and access to each other’s fishing grounds.