At an evidence session of the Commons Brexit Select Committee today (19 December) at Aberdeen University, Bertie Armstrong from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and Michael Bates from the Scottish Seafood Association together laid out the considerable prize that Brexit will bring for sustainable food production and the revitalisation of coastal communities.
The principal points made in response to questioning were:
· A return to the normal condition, under International Law, of beneficial stewardship of the seafood resource in the extensive and very rich Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)surrounding our nation. Presently, 58% of the fish and shellfish caught in our EEZ are taken by non-UK EU boats. As explained to the committee, this is far from normal when compared with Coastal States such as Norway. Rebalancing this would simply be a return to normality that would produce real increases in economic activity for both catching and the shore-side processing sector and beyond.
· Regarding access to the EU single market – the proven ability of the industry to secure new markets was explained to the committee, using the example of market loss and replacement when EU sanctions were applied to Russia. Change will present challenges, for sure, but also opportunities. The possibility of tariffs shouldn’t terrify – the average WTO seafood tariff is 5 – 10%, whereas we have seen currency fluctuations of up to 20% to our exporting advantage over the last six months.
· “We need access to other EU members’ waters”. This myth was laid to rest at the committee meeting. We do not need such access as we catch only around 15% of our fish elsewhere. In any case, mutual access can be negotiated, but only on beneficial terms to our nation, as is the case with other Coastal States such as Norway, Iceland and the Faroes.
· “Fish know no boundaries”. Myth number two was laid to rest at the committee meeting. Fish have no idea about geo-political boundaries, but do know all about biological and ecological ones. That’s why other EU Member States want access to our waters; that’s where the fish are.
· EU manpower – this was particularly relevant to the processing sector and both industry representatives recognised the challenge but made it clear that increased opportunity will mean increased security. It is a challenge that can be met.
In a joint statement after the select committee meeting, Bertie Armstrong and Michael Bates said: “The point most strongly made was that the seafood in our EEZ is a fundamental natural resource which, unlike oil, gas and coal is a wholly renewable resource if looked after. It will still be there in 500 years’ time and is therefore something permanent that should not to be traded away for short-term expediency.
“Markets and manpower are challenges to be met, not stoppers. Give us the increased raw material and we will deliver the rest.”