Peterhead fishermen hoped for an “ocean of opportunity” from Brexit, but they got a wave of complications and extra costs, even before the surge in inflation in the United Kingdom.
“It’s been the worst three years” of his career, Mark Addison explains to AFP, in front of his trawler, the Benarkle II, moored just behind the Peterhead fish market, in the north of Scotland.
“Brexit then the war in Ukraine”, which caused the costs of fuel and equipment such as fishing nets to soar, “those were really two hard blows one after the other”, adds the fisherman to the red beard, light eyes and navy blue jumpsuit.
The fishing sector, an economic lightweight, has nevertheless been the figurehead of the campaign for Britain’s exit from the European Union, demanding more fishing quotas in the North Sea and the Channel, deemed unequally distributed.
Politicians flocked to the ports of Grimsby, in the north-east of England, or to Peterhead, home to one of the country’s main fishing ports and Europe’s largest wholesale market for fish. white.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, then campaigning for the 2019 legislative elections, promised “an ocean of opportunities”.
Today, those who had high hopes for Brexit believe that they have been sold “a lie”, like Mark Addison.
He views favorably the increase in fishing quotas in favor of the United Kingdom provided for in the post-Brexit free trade agreement with Brussels, which entered into force at the start of 2021. But he is faced with the indirect fallout from leaving the EU for its customers who export to the continent.
“There are problems with queues at border posts for passports and customs forms, problems with consolidation (of cargo) in trucks, there is always something,” he lists.
When a shipment of fish, a perishable commodity if ever there was one, is lost or delayed, this lowers the price offered by exporters on subsequent sales for its whiting, haddock, or other cod.
– “We must make do” –
This forces him to be more selective. Fish whose flesh spoils quickly is no longer worth it, he says, whereas before leaving the EU, he caught everything he could in his nets with the assurance of get a good price.
But as he explains with a look of resignation: “I have three sons on this boat. When you’re a small family business, you have to deal with it.”
“There are undoubtedly big businesses that have benefited” from Brexit, analyzes Bryce Stewart, specialist in fishing and marine ecology at the University of York. But “small businesses, which form the majority of the country’s fleet, have not benefited from it, or even suffered from it.”
In the Peterhead market hall, the size of a football field, hundreds of crates of fish are lined up in the early morning under the pale neon light.
Around fifty merchants in plastic boots and oilskins carry out the day’s auctions, bidding at a glance. In less than two hours, 6,000 cases will be sold.
Graeme Sutherland, co-director of White Link Seafood, was pro-Brexit, like a majority of fishermen, but admits promises have not materialized.
“We still hope after 2026 in terms of fishing quotas,” explains with a gentle smile the man who co-manages a family fishing and processing business which employs around 200 people.
Especially since the cost of living crisis is making itself felt: “sales prices are tighter this year on high-end fish. We see that money is scarce,” he tells the ‘AFP.
Bryce Stewart believes that the EU has no interest in granting more quotas after the transition period until 2026, and that the United Kingdom has few means of putting pressure on the Union, its most big market.
Alistair Brown, who runs operations at Nolan Seafoods, can’t have harsh words enough. “For fish processing companies, Brexit has been a disaster that only brings additional costs.” Not to mention employee shortages. “We need foreign staff in our factories.” “For us everything is tense at the moment because of costs, inflation. Everything ultimately depends on our customers, and they ask for cheaper fish.”
This article is originally published on fr.news.yahoo.com