Government warned not to use fishing as a “bargaining chip”

Fisherman Paul Lines, chairman of the Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance. Picture: Nick Butcher

Fisherman Paul Lines, chairman of the Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Fishing leaders have warned the government it would miss out on a 'once in a lifetime' opportunity to regenerate East Anglia's coastal towns if fishing rights are given away in Brexit negotiations.

The message came after concerns were raised in the industry by comments from chancellor Philip Hammond in which he suggested arrangements could be made to trade access for British waters.

Minister for agriculture, fisheries and food George Eustice said on Thursday that when the UK left the European Union it would leave the common fisheries policy, meaning we can 'manage access to our own waters' after being asked to promise that British fishermen would not become a bargaining chip.

Paul Lines, chairman of the Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance (LFMA), said the government would have 'sold fishermen down the river' if any of our fishing stock was given away.

He said: 'Our coastal towns have got a once in a lifetime chance to regenerate. If they think we are going to let that chance get away they will have to think again.

'There is the potential to bring £20m of fish a year into Lowestoft and that could reinvigorate the industry here.

'It would put the heart back into the town.'

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The UK's fishing industry declined after it came under the Common Fisheries Policy which limits the amount of fish each country can catch.

Mr Lines added there had been 150 vessels when he started out in Lowestoft in 1974 and now there were just 15, with most only able to go out once a week.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous he would push the government to consider the industry's case.

He said: 'I think there is concern in the fishing industry that, in what are very complex negotiations, fishing could be used as a bargaining chip and therefore we might not get all that we want out of the process.

'There is a very strong opinion among MPs right around the British coast and across parties that we are very keen to ensure this doesn't happen. We will be holding the government to account over the coming months and pushing that message.'

An industry conference, organised by the LFMA and Mr Aldous, is being held at The Hotel Victoria in Lowestoft on Thursday with Mr Eustice set to attend.