Smart deal within reach for British fishing?Kirkella is coming to the end of its trip to Svalbard waters. Photos: UK Fisheries

The only distant waters freezer trawler sailing under the UK flag is approaching the end of its current trip – and operating company UK Fisheries still has no indication of what fishing opportunities will come their way once Kirkella has docked in Hull to unload its catch of frozen fillets.

“Right now, we have literally no idea when Kirkella’s next trip will be. As a British company we cannot fish without a licence issued by the UK’s Single Issuing Authority, which itself is dependent on quotas negotiated by Defra,” explained a spokesman for UK Fisheries.

“While we were grateful to be issued with a licence for our current Svalbard trip, this represents just a small fraction of what we need to run a viable business in 2021 and beyond. Whatever the perils of working round the clock in icy seas a week’s steaming from home, the biggest challenge by far to Kirkella remains the failure by the UK government to maintain or enhance the rights of British fishermen to catch fish for the British market.”

Talks are currently in progress between the UK and Norway, as part of a complex set of negotiations between the EU, Norway and the UK as a brand-new coastal state.

“But progress is slow and we have no licences beyond this trip. We can’t plan for anything beyond March, and neither can our crews or their families.”

While the UK government and much of the industry robustly refused to countenance any links between fishing access and market access in the long run-up to the deal that was finally reached at the end of 2020, UK Fisheries’ position is that the UK’s coastal partners are ready to talk.

“The Norwegians, for example, are heavily dependent on access to British waters and British markets. There is a smart deal waiting to be struck. Having directly linked trade and access in its Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, there is no possible reason for HMG not to use its full bargaining power with Norway, freed of the redundant dogma that trade talks and access talks are somehow separate processes,” the company states.

“Importantly, in landing a Norwegian deal our negotiators would set a precedent for deals with our other independent coastal partners such as the Faroes and Greenland. Not only that, they would show their faith in the potential for all of the British industry to survive, invest and grow.”

The company stressed the point that this is not solely about UK Fisheries as a company, stating that skilled negotiations could deliver a really bright future for fishing in all four UK nations, spread between large and small operators and all types of ownership.

“Whatever is holding talks up, the government now needs to adopt a smart approach and quickly deliver an ambitious deal for British fishermen. UK Fisheries has tens of millions of pounds to invest in the future of distant-waters fishing in the North-East, but this can’t and won’t wait for much longer,” the company’s spokesperson warned.

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