Brexit offers last chance to revive East Anglia's flagging fisheries, says strategy report
PUBLISHED: 00:01 17 October 2019 | UPDATED: 07:52 17 October 2019
A rejuvenated East Anglian fishing industry could restore hundreds of jobs and boost our economy by £32m - but only if government policies can maximise the "once-in-a-generation chance" offered by Brexit.
That is one of the key messages from the Renaissance of the East Anglia Fisheries (REAF) group which is set to launch the UK's first regional fishing strategy at Westminster today.
The group's report highlights "a moment of great potential and great threat" for an industry with centuries of tradition in many coastal communities.
It says leaving the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) could prompt a seven-fold increase in the value of the quota fish stocks caught by UK vessels fishing in the Southern North Sea and a 25pc increase in the value of other fish caught regionally by UK vessels.
This would add 25 or more vessels to the UK fleet in the Southern North Sea, says the report, creating 300 onshore and offshore jobs and reversing decades of decline if the strategy is implemented.
But unless the government changes its "EU-aligned policies" and regulations to seize these opportunities, REAF says fishing will decline and the inshore fleet is likely to disappear within a decade - causing "an irreversible loss of infrastructure" and further damaging already-fragile coastal economies.
The report makes 11 recommendations including to disband the "inflexible" pool system for inshore vessels; to restrict the offshore fleet from fishing within 12 nautical miles of the UK; to consider restricting offshore vessels to 500hp and banning beam trawling; and to improve access to finance for aquaculture expansion.
It also calls for investment in a "regional fishing port" to accommodate increased landings and vessel activity, with Lowestoft named as the principle candidate as it is close to the fishing grounds, with an existing fish market and local processing capacity.
The strategy will be launched in the Palace of Westminster today at an event hosted by Waveney MP Peter Aldous, who has chaired the project steering group.
Another driving force behind the REAF project is June Mummery, a Brexit Party MEP and member of the Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance.
"REAF is the most exciting and wonderful thing that can happen for the East of England," she said. "It is not just about catching fish. It is about bringing back industry and putting families back to work and putting fire back in their bellies.
"We can bring back the quota system into our country and rejuvenate our coastal towns and villages, because they have been starved. There is no work.
"One job at sea is worth eight on land. We need ships built, and then we need people to process it and the infrastructure, and the restaurants will want to buy all this fresh fish. We are looking at everything from net to plate.
"We are still going to send our fish over to our friends in the EU, but if the Dutch don't want it we will send it to Australia.
"All of this can only happen if we can get out of the CFP. We want full control of our waters and we want our fish back. Off Lowestoft alone there are millions of pounds' worth of fish to catch.
"We just want the right to make a living and have sustainable fisheries. We don't want these bloody great trawlers churning up the biodiversity and making it barren out there - when we get out of the CFP we can start to rebuild our coastal communities."
REAF is a partnership between East Suffolk Council, Norfolk County Council, Suffolk County Council, Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance, industry body Seafish, Associated British Ports, and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, with input from across the fishing sector and supply chain.
The strategy makes the case for East Anglian waters to be managed as mixed fishery, for better data on fish stocks, for sustainable fishing practices and a clear objective of maintaining fish stocks at maximum sustainable yield whilst recognising the reality of mixed fisheries.
To deliver the strategy and secure the necessary infrastructure funding, REAF says it aims to work in partnership with Defra and the various regulatory bodies.