LONDON (Reuters) – The head of a British industry body said on Wednesday that Britain’s fisheries were all sold out under the agreed post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union, and urged the government to do more for the sector when the adjustment period is called. Expires in 2026.
Regaining “control” of British fishing waters was one of the main drivers of Brexit, with the industry becoming the poster child for many supporters of leaving the country during the 2016 referendum and beyond.
But Barry Dias, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, said the government’s assurances and promises it made before striking a trade deal with the bloc late last year had been broken.
“It’s really hard to express how suddenly the fishing industry has fallen,” Dias told reporters.
“The flags that have been flying over our ships for the past two years have been ‘The Fishing Never Runs Out’ and that really made our concerns clear. Those flags now seem smart and politically wise because that’s what happened.”
He said there had been changes to fish quotas “but on the sidelines”, that the agreement with the European Union had encouraged other countries such as Norway, and that producers of some live oysters had real difficulties exporting to the bloc.
“In that sense, it is a tragic story, far from the sea of opportunity that some have been talking about,” he said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has also hit the sector making it more difficult to quantify the impact.
The government hailed what it described as a major deal with the EU on fisheries, saying that over time Britain would be able to benefit from becoming an “independent coastal country”.
Under the agreement, Britain agreed to an adjustment period in which the fishing rights of the bloc’s fleet in British waters would be gradually reduced over a period of five years. From 2026, there will be annual talks to define access terms.
Dias said the government should show it can do more for the industry in 2026.
“One of the big questions is what will happen after 2026 and it is clear that the EU is quietly confident that it has enough deterrent powers to prevent the UK from fully asserting its rights,” he said.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Emilia Sithole Mataris)