The deadline of 15 October set by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is approaching. Negotiations are still underway. And fishermen play a prominent role in those negotiations.
For the British economy, fishing is only a small percentage. “It has become a bit of symbolic politics,” explains Pim Visser. He is director of the advocate VisNed. “The British fishermen now think that there is really something to be gained and that is why it is something for Johnson to come home with a victory. That is really because of the lobby that Scottish fishermen, among others, have made of it.”
Anyone can fish anywhere
At the moment, the old rules from before Brexit still apply. One of those rules was created in the 1970s and concerns access to so-called territorial waters. These are parts of the sea that belong to a specific country.
The agreements from the 1970s promised that European fishermen would have access to each other’s territorial waters to fish. On the basis of these agreements, it is also determined annually how much each country may catch of each fish species. But now that the British are leaving the EU, they want to have those waters for themselves and they want new agreements on how much fish can be caught.
Bad news for Dutch fishermen
“That is very bad news for Dutch fishermen,” explains Pim Visser, the director of the interest representative of cutter fishery Visned. “A large part of the output of Dutch fishermen comes from British waters.”
Visser is afraid that the fishery will be exchanged in the negotiations. “We try very hard to prevent fishing from becoming some kind of asset. This is really about the future of our fishing villages and the people who depend on them.”
Fish catches up to eighty percent from British waters
This can also be seen per fish species. The Dutch catch about eighty percent of herring and mackerel in British water and 70 percent of blue whiting is caught in British waters.
“The closure therefore also has an immense impact on the fishing villages of the Netherlands. Arnemuiden and Goedereede depend for 40 percent of their yield on the catch from British water. At Texel, this is even half”, says Visser.
Hundreds of people without work
Diek Parlievliet sees this dependence all too well. His company’s boats catch a lot in British waters. “If we lose that access, I can keep a large part of my boats aside. That means that our processing areas will also be without fish. 500 employees will immediately lose their jobs, count the people from the transport and further. If you sell on top of that, you might end up with up to 2500 people whose jobs are at stake. And that’s just our company. “
Parlievliet would prefer that the rules as they are now change as little as possible. “My father’s father was already fishing in those waters and I want my kids’ kids to be able to do that too.”
But they want that change on the other side of the North Sea. Fisherman Mike Sharp from the village of Brixham cannot wait for Brexit. “We want to regain control of our seas. The way quotas are now distributed is not fair. We get far too little. ”
His village of Brixham is admittedly the UK’s largest fishing village. Yet it has been under pressure for a long time because of competition from France, Spain and the Netherlands and EU rules on overfishing. He is therefore a strong supporter of Brexit.
“I don’t hate Europe, but I do hate the European Union.” By regaining his own control over the seas, he hopes to relive old times. “The freedom we had forty years ago, my son also wants to go fishing. I grant him the same times.”
Old times do not return
Pim Visser, however, thinks that the Brit is misguided. “The times they want to go back to with Brexit are not suddenly coming back. The British do not eat the fish that you can catch there and import the fish that they eat. So you will have to sell the caught fish to the EU again. And because you are no longer a member of the EU, it will be expensive.
If it is up to fisherman Parlievliet, that will not even happen at all. “I see that as bread robbery. First tell us that we are no longer allowed to fish there and then sell ourselves the same fish. Because they want to leave the EU if necessary. Without access to that water, as far as I am concerned no trade deal on the” fish.”
Still, Mike Sharp continues to see opportunities in Brixham. There are about 700 million inhabitants in the EU, but 7.5 billion in Asia. And now that our hands are no longer tied by the EU, we can explore those markets. ”
There is currently a transition period on the table in the negotiations. Both parties are actually not very happy with that. “After four years of negotiations they should have already decided, but I am hopeful”, says Sharp. “Only as long as it is not all fixed, anything can still happen.”
Pim Visser does not see a transition period for Dutch fishermen. “Whether you get shot then or in 4 years, it doesn’t matter anymore. We just have to keep access to those waters.”