Shetland & Orkney MP, Alistair Carmichael has demands action on the absence of Government strategy for the future of the fishing industry

Shetland & Orkney MP, Alistair Carmichael has demands action on the absence of Government strategy for the future of the fishing industry post-2026

Speaking at the Westminster Hall debate: Allocations to UK-EU fisheries following the UK’s departure from the EU, Shetland and Orkney MP Alistair Carmichael delivered a scathing criticism of the UK Government’s handling of the fisheries sector post-Brexit and told Fisheries Minister that the Government had no strategy plan when it came to the future of the industry.

In his speech Mr Carmichael noted the absence of Members of Parliament in this debate compared to similar debates last year when, all and sundry who were “standing up to hail a new dawn, who ultimately turned out didn’t know the difference between a codpiece in a cod end, remarked the Scottish Liberal Democrat. “Even those for fishing communities who were most extravagant in their promises are remarkable for their absence today and well I’m not going to name anyone, I wouldn’t want anybody to think that it had gone unnoticed.”

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He attacked the Government on what he called a lack of strategy for the fishing industry and called on the Minister, Victoria Prentis, who was present at the debate, to act on a plan.

Mr Carmichael said, “As others have said the TCA did not deliver what was promised and the real difficulty for the Minister and her colleagues now is that in fact the whole terms of the TCA is such the despite the protestations of Prime Minister, come 2026 it’s very difficult to see how that is actually going to change.

“It’s difficult to see for two reasons. First of all the consequences for other sectors of any change in relation to the fisheries provisions would be so severe that it’s difficult to see any government in five years’ time making that sacrifice if they weren’t prepared to make it last year, and secondly, the TCA are only going to be changed as if there is government strategy for it, and I’m afraid the one common thread that you’ve heard from every contribution here today is the total absence of any government strategy in relation to what they’re going to do with fisheries policy now that we’re no longer part of the European Union and the CFP.

“I’ll be delighted to be shown to be wrong about that and when the Minister comes to answer we will be listing clearly, but at the moment I see absolutely no sign of it.”

Mr Carmichael also brought up the issue of quota swaps and as if the new system was fit-for-purpose. He said, “The honourable gentleman spoke about the FSC (the fisheries committee). That illustrates I think well quite some of the challenges that’s we now have because that’s where decisions will be made on in-year quota swaps.

“These in-year quota swaps are an absolutely critical to PO’s up and down the country, but the FSC is at best going to be meeting four times a year. Now we have to some mechanisms. Producer Organisations cannot just expect to do their quota swaps in-year four times a year. That was business it was being done in a weekly sometimes that daily basis under the old arrangements.”

Mr Carmichael asked the Minister about what happened to resolving the “teething problems” with fish exports and the Seafood Response Fund put in place in January to aid fish exporters. He continued:

“The Minister will recall the discussions that we had at the start of the year and the utter chaos that there was at that point. And I have to see that what was described then as being “teething problems”, well, still seem to be continuing today.

“If my children had taken that long for teething, I might well have put them up for adoption. But the teething problems that we see have an exceptionally long tale. I told the Minister before, and I have been in correspondence with her. For one exporter from Shetland who had £50,000 pounds worth of fish due to be exported in that first week. He was able to export not a penny piece of it. As a consequence, he sold it on the domestic market for £20,000 that was a loss of £30,000 to his business. Had he left the fish just to sit and rod he would have got the £50,000 pounds in compensation from the scheme that the Minister set up. Because he had mitigated his loss, done the best in the interests of his business and the taxpayer, he was told “No, you sold your fish so you will not get a penny piece of compensation for it”. As a result, though he is £30,000 out of pocket as a consequence.

“In what universe does that possibly make any sort of sense, and in all this contributes to the feeling amongst the catchers, the processors and the exporters that actually that they are a wee bit embarrassing, too much trouble for this Government really to deal with.

“So, when the Minister comes to reply, will she explain how it is that that compensation scheme is left being made to work in the way that it is?”

Concluding his question, Mr Carmichael asked, “And finally, I want to touch in this question about availability of crew.

“This is something that we’ve all campaigned for, the people in this room today, and it was a major advance we got the Migration Advisory Committee to accept it in fact deckhands were skilled labour but the factors that we’re no closer actually to getting it workable solution, because the insistence that deckhands should have a B2 level of language competence is something that that means that in fact the concession of a skilled labour is virtually meaningless to the industry.

“That is something about which the Minister should be speaking to her colleagues in the Home Office. I very much hope that it is and it well there’s an awful lot more that I could say also that availability of labour in the processing sector, but I see that the time is against me.”

by Oliver McBride

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