UK fishing industry professor

The claim that the UK’s fishing industry has the potential to grow to 3.5% of Britain’s GDP has been questioned by Professor Richard Barnes

A claim which believes the UK’s fishing industry has the potential to grow from around 0.5% of Britain’s GDP to 3.5% has been questioned by a Professor of International Law.

The claim was made on by Paul Lines, Chairman of Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance, who said the UK Government should ignore the current small percentage of GDP that Britain’s fishing industry accounts for due to the fact it will soar after Brexit.

In his interview Mr Lines said that the UK fishing industry had the potential to grow from around 0.5% of Britain’s GDP to 3.5% if zonal attachment is introduced after the post-Brexit transition period. Mr Lines added that Britain’s coastal communities will thrive of having a fishery and it may result in thousands of jobs created within the fishing sector.

The 3.5% of Britain’s GDP has been questioned by some with one commentator pointing out that in 2019, the fishing industry accounted for 0.12% of the UK’s GDP and not the 0.5% as Mr Lines said. 

As for the manpower and vessels required to increase the GDP, the commentator said “We have neither the vessels or the personnel to catch the potential figures quoted.”

Speaking to The Fishing Daily today, Professor Richard Barnes, Associate Dean for Research (Faculty of Business, Law and Politics) at Lincoln University also questioned the figures quoted in the Express article.

“The suggested levels of growth are impossible.  At present fishing contributes around £1.4 billion to the economy (Gross Value added data from the Office for National Statistics).  UK GDP is somewhere around £2.2 trillion, but has slumped this year due to COVID. The basic description of current contribution of fishing to GDP is incorrect. 

“At best fishing is around 0.05% of GDP, depending on how you capture the economic contribution of the fishing industry (catch, processing and ancillary services…). 

“To get to 3.5% from this is a 70-fold growth and this is simply impossible.  There are not enough fish in the sea, never mind boats to catch the fish. Even more ‘moderate’ levels of growth (e.g seven fold – assuming a factual mistake in the paper) are going to be difficult/if not impossible as they assume significant increases in catch, onshore processing, and then continued levels of export at high prices.

“Maintaining or increasing exports in particular will be a challenge depending on Brexit and trading rules…… 

“Even for developed mixed economies with strong domestic fisheries (e.g New Zealand – 0.7% or Norway 0.4%) fisheries is a small share of GDP. For Iceland it is higher, but the overall balance of the economy is geared to fisheries, tourism and smelting) so not a useful comparison.

“Assuming a maximum windfall from Brexit, I do not expect growth to be significant. If UK vessels were able to secure ALL catch in UK waters, this is likely to be around an additional 650,000 tonnes of fish worth an estimated £400million.  

“However, UK boats would potentially lose access to EU waters, and around 90,000 tonnes of catch worth approx £100million.  

“So in terms of the mere volume increase in catch, we are looking at a relatively small increase in contribution to UK economic activity. 

“Looking at the Napier report, you might see a potential catch value of £1.7 billion. This is an approximate increase of around 40% in catch value.  We might see an increase in the contribution of GDP but less than 0.05%. adding in the wider value of related sectors, you may see additional growth, but I could not put a figure on this. 

“I am not sure what is achievable because some form of compromise on access to water for fishing/access to markets will be required deal or no-deal.  

“The first barrier to growth is capacity. Some growth might be absorbed through the use of latent capacity, but fishing for some species will require new gear.  

“The second barrier to growth is uncertainty. To grow the industry would need to invest in catch and processing capacity. Investment will require security (longer term), so a lack of certainty in the short term will deter banks from investing in the industry. 

“Ironically, the UK favours annual negotiations on quota – which would undermine this.  

“The third obstacle is labour shortages because the sector is quite dependent on overseas skilled crew.  More fishing will require more labour but this could be restricted due to migration rules.

The next barrier to growth results from market conditions for seafood products  – no deal will likely limit access to markets or increase the costs of access and so reduce the economic return from fishing.”

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Brian J McMullin Solicitors
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