Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Mark Ball and his son fishing near Rye Harbour.

Stabbed in the back: Brexit’s betrayal of Britain’s fishermen

By all accounts, the gains for the British fishing industry in the Brexit deal were marginal at best – many were left with a feeling of being totally sold out, and none more so than the Hastings fishing community, writes HOT reporter/photographer John Cole.

“All we’ve ever asked for is exactly what the EU fishery has, which is to have control of our waters,” says Paul Joy, chairman of the Hasting Fishermen’s Protection Society (HFPS). “We want a level playing field, so that Britain has a 12-mile limit just as the EU nations all have. It’s nonsense!”

Paul Joy, chairman of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society

“We’re stuck in an arrangement that gives the EU fleet access to within a six-mile limit, while UK fishing boats are limited to a 12-mile limit to French (and all other EU) waters. 70% of France’s fish are caught in UK waters. 70%!

“The 12-mile limit should be sacrosanct. But it’s not. For example, on December 23 there were 17 Belgian fishing vessels working between Brighton and Hastings, taking a massive volume of our fishing stock before those fish could migrate into Hastings’ waters.”

Here are the bare-bone basics of the deal, with many details still to be worked out: EU boats will continue to fish in UK waters for some years to come, but UK fishing boats will get a greater share of the fish from UK waters.

That shift in the share will be phased in over five and a half years – after that there’ll be annual negotiations to decide how the catch is shared out between the UK and EU. The UK has the right to completely exclude EU boats after 2026, but the EU could respond with taxes on exports of British fish to the EU, as well as obliging the UK to pay compensation to EU fleets for lack of access.

Many caveats

“The payment of compensation to the EU is just one of the many caveats that haven’t been publicised in the 1,200-page Brexit document”, says Joy. “Even though 70% of Hastings’ catch goes directly to Europe, we’d rather pay tariffs to the EU for our fish  than sacrifice the British fishing industry.”

Not surprisingly, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has said that the agreement the UK had struck with the EU was the “best possible deal” for the fishing industry as a whole. Few in the UK fishing industry would agree.

While fishing is a tiny part of the UK’s overall economy (about 0.02% in 2019), it carries huge political weight. “The .02% figure has been bandied about but is not a true reflection of what the fishing industry contributes to the UK economy,” says Joy. “When we entered the EU in 1973, 82% of Europe’s fish stock was from the UK. But after joining the EU, we only got back 8% in actual monetary value. However, that 8% turns around a billion pounds of revenue a year for the UK. Again, this figure is not reflected in the agreement.”

Jeremy Percy, chief executive of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA) echoes Joy’s sentiments. “The 0.02% figure totally ignores the reality that fishing provides much needed employment in often vulnerable coastal communities, puts food on the table in the UK, as well as providing a level of food security for an island.

“The UK fleet is made up of 5,911 boats: 21% are more than 10 metres in length and 79% (4,670 boats), of ten metres and under, the ‘under ten fleet’ [which includes Hastings],” continues Percy of NUTFA. “On this basis, it is clear that the majority of the 79% of the UK fleet that are the under-tens provide more direct economic and social benefits per tonne of fish to coastal communities, despite having access to only a paltry allocation of quota.”

Unequivocal promise

Mark Ball pulling in a catch

“NUTFA was present at a meeting in Hastings in 2018,” says Percy, “Where the then fisheries minister [now secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] George Eustice unequivocally promised the assembled fleet thousands and thousands of tons more fish post Brexit. In this respect, following the deal we note that the UK’s share of cod in the Channel adjacent to Hastings has risen from 9.3% to 10%, hardly tens, never mind hundreds or thousands of tons increase.

“NUTFA is now fighting hard to ensure that whatever crumbs from the EU table come the UK’s way are allocated to the under-ten fleet rather than being swallowed up by the larger scale sector that already holds over 98% of the UK quota”.

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) agrees with both Paul Joy and NUTFA that any gains were paltry at best. Writing in The Guardian its chief executive Barrie Deas said there was a growing feeling of disappointment, anger and frustration in the industry and that the deal had secured just a fraction of what the UK has a right to under international law, arguing that fishing had been “sacrificed for other national objectives [read agriculture and finance].

“There have been some marginal changes on the quota shares but we’re tied back into an arrangement that gives access to the EU fleet to our waters up to the six-mile limit. We thought an exclusive 12-mile limit was an absolute red line for the UK. That hasn’t held.”

“The answer is both obvious and bitter”, continues Deas. “When push came to shove, despite the legal, moral and political strength of our case, fishing was sacrificed. Lacking legal, moral, or political negotiating leverage on fish, the EU made the whole trade deal contingent on a UK surrender on fisheries. In the end-game, the Prime Minister made the call and caved in on fish, despite his rhetoric and assurances to the contrary.”

Angry and let down

“Every fishermen I’ve spoken to is angry at the deal, and feels very let down,” says Hastings’ Paul Joy. Mark Ball, who has been a Hastings fisherman for 42 years, is one of many angry British fishermen.

“In the 2016 referendum, I supported and voted to leave the EU, hoping to get the good deal the Brexit politicians had promised us. And now, four and a half years later they’ve sold us down the river. They f…..g used us!

Mark Ball after a long night at sea

“When Boris came on TV to announce the deal wearing his stupid fish tie, he bloody lied, saying that we, the fishermen, had got a good deal”, continues Ball. “If he had told the truth and said, ‘Look, we’ve done a deal for the best of the country, but I’m afraid it’s not the best deal for the fishermen…,’ well, at the very least that would have been the truth. Or, if Boris had just secured the 12-mile limit, then I could have lived with that.”

“In the area designated for Hastings fishermen between Brighton and Hythe Bay, we are allowed a quota of 9.3% of the cod, which as part of the deal, will now only go up to 10% after five years. Whereas the French are allowed 82% of the cod catch in our area, and the rest of the bits and pieces go to Belgium and Holland. They’ve stabbed us in the back!”

Finally, Joy sees the bigger picture, pointing out the implications far outside of Hastings’ waters. “There is a lot more at stake than just the Hastings fishing fleet”, he says. “At the moment, super trawlers from non-European nations are fishing under EU licenses. These trawlers are pillaging our oceans and damaging sustainable stocks. All of which leaves us hemmed in and dying as an industry.”

If you believe, as most in the UK fishing industry do, that super trawlers must be stopped from fishing in UK waters, then please sign and share this petition to Parliament – 100,000 signatures are needed for it to be considered for debate in the House of Commons, and there are now approximately 44,400.


All photos (c) John Cole (


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Posted 17:46 Friday, Jan 8, 2021 In: Fishing


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Fitzsimons

    You wanted Brexit so stop crying. Just sell your catch in the UK so we can have cheaper produce.

    Comment by Fitzsimons — Sunday, Feb 21, 2021 @ 19:15

  2. EU trawler Captain

    You won.

    Get over it!

    Comment by EU trawler Captain — Wednesday, Jan 20, 2021 @ 19:06

  3. Nigel Inwood

    petition signed

    Comment by Nigel Inwood — Wednesday, Jan 20, 2021 @ 13:20

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