Brexit campaigner fishes for a new prosperity in Lowestoft
- Credit: Archant
As Brexit outcomes become more unpredictable by the day, Tony Wenham meets a campaigner with a clear vision of how leaving the EU could boost a traditional east coast industry and bring new prosperity to her town.
We meet – Boadicea and I – as news comes in of an overnight battle over French scallops off Normandy. This time, UK vessels are the (legal) aggressors, and former Ukip leader Nigel Farage has been texting.
But we're at Lowestoft fish market to talk instead about how our European partners have been fishing British North Sea waters and how Brexit could change all that - and be the saviour of the town.
'Some of them call me Boadicea,' says June Mummery, referring to the cohorts of businesses, politicians, civil servants and councillors who dare to hijack her mission to revive Lowestoft's fishing industry and subsequently the town's overall prosperity. And, with her flowing blond mane and upper five-foot frame, she must make an imposing foe.
A fighter, for sure, she's also impressed Lord Sugar, star of TV's The Apprentice, whose researchers failed to shortlist her business plan to invest in a fishing boat.
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'I got down to the last 75 out of 77,000 entrants,' she explains. 'Later I bumped in to him personally at the House of Lords one day when I was down there to see the fisheries minister.
'I told him I hadn't made it through and he said 'my loss is the minister's gain'. I bet I'd have got through if he'd been involved at that early stage.'
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Not used to losing and an ardent Brexiteer, Mrs Mummery, managing director of Lowestoft fish market auctioneers BFP Eastern, continues: 'We could create huge wealth in our area and it will happen if the government gets behind it,' she says.
A government white paper on the fishing industry has been broadly welcomed by interested parties and is currently out for consultation until Monday<co Sept 10>.
Mrs Mummery, 54, and her self-styled 'wingman' Paul Lines, a successful local businessman and owner of sea-going boats, emphasise that any subsequent legislation must not be a fudge.
The fisherfolk here have long memories and blame former prime minister Ted Heath for 'horse-trading', as they describe it, their industry to facilitate entry to the European Economic Community in 1973.
Waveney MP Peter Aldous told a recent conference in Lowestoft: 'There is a risk of fishing again being a bargaining chip, and it is essential to tell government that it mustn't happen. Fishing is small in economic terms but not in political terms, and now, in Brexit, it is totemic.'
The latest frustration is the unexpected introduction of a two-year post-Brexit transition period, further postponing the opportunity for exclusive UK fishing rights.
Mr Lines says: 'We [the fishing industry] have been thrown away like a rag in a dustbin. Our governments have been working against us for 40 years.
'But we've got £190m-worth of fish out there and just now most of it is going to our European neighbours – mainly the Dutch. I'm talking about taking back the fish that the Dutch are currently fishing. We should be catching, processing and selling that fish back to the Dutch and French – even to China - and we can it do from right here in Lowestoft.
'This town was built on fishing. The railway came here to take fish away, not to bring in seasonal day-trippers. Fishing can give us a way forward for sustainable employment in Lowestoft.'
Mrs Mummery adds: 'It's estimated that every job at sea is worth 10 on land. At the moment we have 14 boats selling into the market here and overall there are about 500 people making a living from fish in the town. If Brexit goes our way, I believe the workforce will double in the next 10-15 years.'
Both Mrs Mummery and Mr Lines are fervent supporters of the Renaissance of East Anglian Fishing (Reaf) movement, which proposes Lowestoft as a hub for southern North Sea fishing and processing.
'Lowestoft is a designated fishing port with very rich fishing grounds,' says Mrs Mummery. 'Here we have one of only three 'shout' auctions in the UK, which takes place every morning at 7am. We also have Cefas [the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science], a world leader in marine science and technology.
'Now our vision is to increase boat numbers at the market from 14 to 30 and to be able to accommodate boats up to 25 metres.'
Could it happen? With Boadicea and her general in the front line, there has to be chance…
Heyday of the herring
The herring has been at the heart of Lowestoft life since the Norman Conquest, but the town's fishing heyday is generally chronicled between 1870-1914. At the time, Lowestoft accommodated a fleet of more than 750 boats, with over half coming from Scotland.
Between 1914-18, with the danger of attack by German submarines, fishing all but ceased and many drifters and trawlers were seconded by the Royal Naval as patrol vessels and minesweepers.
After the war, catches declined steadily through the 1920s and 30s. During the Great Depression, many fishing businesses failed.
By 1939, the fleet had reduced to about 25pc of its Edwardian peak, then fishing was halted for the period of the second world war.
By the end of the 1960s, the east coast herring fishing industry was almost over. However, as Lowestoft has always had a trawling fleet, the fishing industry continued, as our archive pictures show.
Three lions' share
It is estimated the southern North Sea produces:
• 40,000 tonnes of herring, of which the UK gets 10pc and other member states 90pc. 26,000 tonnes of the Europeans' catch is caught in the UK's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
• Post-Brexit, UK fisherman could be able to land 36,000 tonnes of herring, worth £13.5m at the quayside, £38m with value added in processing.
• 80,000 tonnes of plaice is the total allowable catch (TAC) of plaice for the North Sea, of which the EU takes 60,000 tonnes.
• Post-Brexit, the UK share could be 32,000 tonnes with an estimated quayside value of £35m and, processed to plate, £140m.
TACs are shared between EU countries in the form of national quotas. The fixed percentage is known as the 'relative stability' key. The UK is set to abandon relative stability and replace it with the notion of 'zonal attachment' – a move which could net a further £80m for the east coast, according to Reaf.
Anger on the pulse
A Dutch fishing method which is seen as a direct threat to the east coast fishing industry is continuing despite European Parliament efforts to ban it.
Electrical pulse trawling has been illegal for the last 20 years, but Dutch fishermen have used a legal loophole to 'trial' the system up the east coast for the past decade.
The Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance, led by June Mummery and Paul Lines, has been calling for the 'abhorrent method' to be permanently banned.
The practice, which involves the use of electrodes attached to nets, is claimed to deplete fish stocks and damage the ocean floor as fish are driven towards the nets by electric signals in the water.
Opponents say pulse trawling causes considerable pain and widespread disease among fish, in addition to damaging the survival and feasibility of traditional fishing grounds. Supporters say it is efficient and avoids trawler damage to the seabed.