Cornish fishermen say they were’sold a dream’ after Brexit was announced one year ago

Cornish fishermen say they were’sold a dream’ after Brexit was announced one year ago

At Newlyn Harbour in Cornwall, skipper James “Chunky” Chown makes boarding his trawler, Ajax, appear easy.

The fisherman leaps from the pier, down an iron ladder 10 metres into the blue sea, and onto the boat.

He tells me that “everything is harder now” because of the new post-Brexit norms – “paperwork, legislation, unending bureaucracy”. It costs time and money.”

It wasn't meant to be. 92 per cent of the UK fishing sector opted to exit the EU, citing the benefits of “regaining control” of British seas.

The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations called the new post-Brexit fishing laws a “sell out” in July. Today is a happy day.

Year on year, Chown says he is used to the new laws in Newlyn, England's busiest fishing port. The Brexit has brought new challenges.

“When we went to land pollock in Roscoff, Brittany, we were advised to go to Brest [a port further south],” he recalls. "The French seem to like the new rules."

Chown estimates the loss at £12,000. “We no longer land in France.”

Fishing boats still exist. Crews go out to sea, catch fish, and land it. Every day, every port, every fish is worth something different.

For Chown, a seasonal fisherman, being tied to one market can be inefficient and confining.

The first boat to arrive in France following Brexit. “It was a mess right away. The French can be abrasive. If they don't get their way, they've been known to unload trucks of fish and ignite them with diesel.

Pollock and hake switching is more sustainable but we can't presently. We make a fine living selling hake here, but I think things need to change long-term. I want pollock too. Buying more seafood in Britain would help reduce reliance on European trade.

“We want more ports open. Why must we go through France? I want to land in Santander (Spain). What a relief.”

60-70 percent of British fish landed goes to France, Spain, Italy, and other countries. Even if there is newfound hesitation, commerce with Europe is important.

Fishing isn't always easy. Perhaps the industry's Brexit vote was unsurprising. For years, coastal communities have felt abandoned. But government promises have not materialised.

Government officials came down here and made promises, recalls Paul Trebilcock, manager of 300-year-old Cornish fishing firm Ocean Fish. Michael Gove stood on the harbour, promising us more control over our waters and more fish. Nothing new. We're in a similar position now. Maybe we're worse off.”

He argues Brexit has benefited Scottish industry. In the North Sea and North Atlantic, trawlers fishing mackerel have increased their quota share. They were "sold a dream".

One of the primary selling arguments for ministers advocating the UK becoming an independent coastal state, like Norway and Iceland, was “reclaiming our seas”. UK fishing vessels can now only fish up to six miles from shore. Post-Brexit, fishermen were told the limit would be 12 miles.

It feels like boats have been strung out to dry, says Trebilcock. In general, quota shares have increased little. Also, the 6-12 mile limit was supposed to be ours, but it hasn't happened."

West Country fisherman want a braver Government. To get a bigger piece of the market, the UK needs to be more aggressive, even if it means more trade friction with France.

The Government must defend him, he says. We need trade routes and the EU may respond (by hiking taxes, for example). But we need them. Beautiful fish abound in UK seas. We should catch and sell them.”

Anthony Hendy, a 30-year fisherman, only leaves Newlyn for a day, unlike larger boats like the Ajax, which can sail for a week.

I ask him about his first half of the year. “I've made more money in the last six months because fish is selling well at market – I guess demand increased. But I see a shift here. The fleet has shrunk, making it difficult to get a boat and go fishing. The six mile limit is a big issue for us because most of our fleet is smaller boats that don't go out in bad weather.

“The Belgians and French go out in any weather because they have enormous trawlers financed by the Government. It's hard to watch them come up within six miles of the coast and take all the fish. That's ours. “Trawling the seas every day isn't sustainable.”

Everyone hopes for a “fairer deal” when trade talks resume in 2026.

In response, the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation's new CEO, Chris Ranford, said there was a lot of fury down here. The majority of fisherman backed Brexit because they were persuaded their livelihoods would improve. There will be no change for five years. There is hope.

“It feels like we're moving on now… Positives. We can work towards 2026. Everyone will be pushing for the 12 mile limit and discussing species quotas. That way they may arrive in Europe and obtain a reasonable price for their larger hauls”.