Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has spoken today in a parliamentary debate on UK fisheries, highlighting ongoing problems with post-Brexit trading conditions, compensation for lost exports and challenges in hiring deckhands. Mr Carmichael warned of a “total absence of any Government strategy” on fisheries to improve the lot of fishermen and exporters, and received a commitment from the fisheries minister to meet to discuss rejected compensation claims.
Speaking during the debate, Mr Carmichael said:
“It is worth reflecting for a second or two on how different this debate is today from the ones that we had last year in the run-up to the negotiations. There was a progression of people standing up to hail a “new dawn”. Ultimately, it turned out they did not know the difference between a codpiece and a cod end, and they are more remarkable for their absence today.
“The Trade and Cooperation Agreement did not deliver what was promised. Despite the protestations of the Prime Minister, come 2026 it is very difficult to see how that will change. First, the consequences for other sectors of any change in relation to the fisheries provisions would be so severe that it is difficult to see any Government in five years’ time making that sacrifice if they were not prepared to make it last year.
“Secondly, the terms of the TCA will be changed only if there is a Government strategy, and I am afraid the one common thread today is the total absence of any Government strategy on what they will do with fisheries policy now that we are no longer part of the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy. I would be delighted to be wrong about that. At the moment, I see absolutely no sign of it.
“In-year quota swaps are absolutely critical to producer organisations up and down the country, but the committee is at best going to meet four times a year. POs cannot just expect to do their in-year quota swaps four times a year. That business was being done on a weekly and sometimes daily basis under the old arrangements.
“The Minister will recall the discussions that we had at the start of the year. What was described then as teething problems seems to continue today. If my children had taken that long to teethe, I might well have put them up for adoption.
“I have been in correspondence with the Minister over one exporter from Shetland who had £50,000-worth of fish that was due to be exported in that first week; he was not able export a penny piece of it. He sold it on the domestic market for £20,000—a loss to his business of £30,000. Had he left the fish to sit and rot, he would have got £50,000 in compensation but because he mitigated his loss he was told, “No. You have sold your fish, so you will not get a penny piece of compensation.” It all contributes to the feeling among the catchers and processors and exporters that they are just a wee bit too much trouble for this Government to care about. Will the Minister explain how that compensation scheme has been left to work the way it is?
“I will close on the question of the availability of crew. It was a major advance when we got the Migration Advisory Committee to accept that deckhands are, in fact, skilled labour. However, the insistence that deckhands should have a B2 level of language competence means that the skilled labour concession is virtually meaningless to the industry. The Minister should speak about that to her colleagues in the Home Office—I very much hope that she will.”