Britain has become a coastal state with “one hand tied behind its back” as a result of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, an influential group representing Scottish fishermen has said.
Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), delivered a scathing verdict on the agreement secured with Brussels, as UK ministers faced a growing backlash over claims they had failed to deliver on their promises to the industry.
Her intervention came after Scottish Government analysts claimed the terms of the agreement would actually lead to smaller stocks of some crucial species being landed by Scottish boats, as fishermen would lose the right to exchange or purchase quotas with other nations.
Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, insisted the deal was “good news for Scottish fisheries” and had restored the UK’s status as an independent coastal state.
However, a series of industry bodies have now criticised the terms of the agreement, with the SFF confirming its opposition yesterday after officials spent days poring over the details.
“This deal falls very far short of the commitments and promises that were made to the fishing industry by those at the highest level of government,” Ms Macdonald said.
“It does not restore sovereign UK control over fisheries, and does not permit us to determine who can catch what, where and when in our own waters.
“The adjustments to UK shares of fish are modest at best, and in some cases will leave us with some very real practical fisheries management problems.”
Under the trade deal negotiated with Brussels, 25 per cent of EU boats’ fishing rights in UK waters will be transferred to the UK fishing fleet, over a transition period lasting up to June 2026.
There will then be annual negotiations on the amount of fish EU vessels can take from British waters.
The UK Government has claimed this represents a major improvement on the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.
However, Ms Macdonald suggested the deal allowing reciprocal access to waters was unbalanced as EU fishermen were far more reliant on UK territory than British boats were on European seas.
She also claimed UK negotiators had committed a “fundamental error” by not securing sufficient uplifts to take account of international trade in quotas, which had particular implications for those fishing species such as cod or haddock.
She said: “Anyone involved in fisheries would know this gap had to be bridged for vessels in the whitefish fleet. We expect government to come forward with solutions to the problem they have created.
“By granting full access, the UK has no negotiating capital left with which to increase shares of the fish in our own waters.
“At the end of the six years, how does the government envisage us claiming a fairer share of the catches in our own waters without triggering punishment clauses in the deal?
“Although we are glad to be out of the CFP, our battle to secure better arrangements for our fishermen is far from over. We are now a coastal state with one hand tied behind our back and the industry’s task in the months and years ahead is to right the wrongs of this deal.”
Nicola Sturgeon said that the Scottish Government analysis showed promises to the industry had been “spectacularly broken”. However, her critics have pointed to her policy of Scotland rejoining the EU as an independent country, which would also mean abiding by its fishing rules.
While the research pointed to increased opportunities to fish for species such as mackerel and herring, it said there would be fewer for several species of white fish such as North Sea cod, haddock, saithe and whiting.
Mike Park, chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, said his members were “deeply aggrieved” at the situation.
A spokeswoman for the UK Government said the deal agreed “works to protect and promote the rights of fishermen across the UK”.
She added: “By regaining control of our waters, This deal puts us in a position to rebuild our fishing fleet and deliver increased fishing quotas through annual negotiations with the EU and other coastal states. In the first year this will result in an immediate uplift of 15 per cent, before annual negotiations.”