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The hopes and fears of Lowestoft's fishing industry laid bare at conference

PUBLISHED: 08:42 16 March 2018 | UPDATED: 08:57 16 March 2018

Fisheries minister George Eustice attends a conference on relaunching the fishing industry in Lowestoft. Picture: Nick Butcher

Fisheries minister George Eustice attends a conference on relaunching the fishing industry in Lowestoft. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

The fishing industry's competing hopes and fears over Brexit were in the spotlight at a major conference with the aim of kick-starting the sector.

Herring fishing in Lowestoft, pictured in 1952. Picture: Archant library.Herring fishing in Lowestoft, pictured in 1952. Picture: Archant library.

Industry leaders hope the UK’s impending exit from European Union offers a chance to escape the quota system set down by the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

But there is also fear, because many feel this is the last chance their industry has.

Supporters of the sector believe it could bring some £20m a year to towns such as Lowestoft, helping create jobs and rejuvenating the surrounding area through the supply chain.

However, there are also concerns that Brexit negotiations could see access to UK waters used as a bargaining chip to protect the interests of other industries, particularly the financial sector.

Herring Season
Lowestoft docks

Dated: 1959Herring Season Lowestoft docks Dated: 1959

Jerry Percy, executive director of Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) and a former Lowestoft fisherman, said: “I am terrified of Brexit, I really am, because it is effectively the last chance.

“We have all sat here watching decades of decline of the fishing industry and this is really the last chance to reinvigorate fishing communities at a stroke.”

Speaking to the Renaissance of the East Anglian Fisheries (REAF) conference in Lowestoft yesterday, fisheries minister George Eustice said the government would look to redress the balance between the UK and EU. However, he stopped short of saying access to British waters would not be used as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations.

Mr Eustice said: “Leaving the EU and becoming an independent coastal state again means that we can look afresh at certain issues where there has been an unbalanced relationship.”

In the 1970s there was a fleet of 150 vessels in Lowestoft. Now there are just 15 boats landing their catches at Hamilton Dock, with much of the UK’s quota being landed on European shores by flagships – vessels registered at UK ports but under foreign ownership.

Paul Lines, chairman of Lowestoft Fish market Alliance, said: “It is going to be a long hard trek to get fishing back in Lowestoft but I am feeling confident that it will happen. The industry could be the biggest employer in the town.”

Ensuring the right skills and infrastructure for the industry to grow is another issue and Mr Eustice said EU funds currently in place would be replaced.

Leaving the CFP

Like exiting the European Union, leaving the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) will not be straightforward.

Fisheries negotiations take place each December with quotas decided between the independent coastal nations, such as Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands, and the EU bloc.

However, with the UK due to leave Europe on March 29 it creates a dilemma as to when to leave the jurisdiction of the CFP.

It is unlikely the UK will be able to rip up the agreed quotas during 2019 and fisheries minister George Eustice said there is likely to be a transition period in place until the end of 2020.

Paul Lines, chairman of the Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance, said it was key for the industry to leave the CFP as soon as possible. He said: “We don’t want to be trapped in the CFP for another six years – we can’t last that long. We need the process to be clear and transparent and we want to start rebuilding from March 29, 2019.”

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