Investigation launched to look at impact of Brexit on Plymouth's fishing industry

Fresh fish produce from Plymouth being transported Credit: PA

Plymouth City Council will investigate the impacts of Brexit on the local fishing industry after reports of major problems with exporting fresh seafood.

Since Britain's departure from the European Union, thousands of pounds worth of fresh fish caught by West Country fisherman has gone to waste - with lorries reportedly delayed or turned away at the French border.

Martin Laity, who is a shellfish exporter, described the situation as “catastrophic”.

He said: “You take the average seafood shellfish exporter in the South West, [it’s] 80 percent export, probably 20 percent for the UK market.

“80 percent of their business now is non-viable - so it's just catastrophic. The prices on the markets I've heard are dropping. 

“Something's got to be sorted.”

Now Plymouth City Council's Brexit scrutiny panel has announced a special session to hear about problems in February.

The fishing industry accounts for roughly 2,000 jobs in Plymouth, but Councillor Darren Winter said it has not fared well since Brexit.

A box of freshly-caught pollock in Plymouth Credit: PA

He said: “We recognised during negotiations with the EU that there was the potential for growth in our industry, as outlined in our Plan For Sustainable Fishing which was scrutinised last year.

“However, it has been 24 days since the Government-negotiated Trade and Co-operation deal with the EU has kicked in.

Exporters from the region, including Devon, warned their livelihoods were under threat as they gathered in central London to demonstrate outside government departments in the previous week.

The government promised £23million to help companies which face delays with their exports.

Support for the fishing sector was a key topic discussed by Luke Pollard, Labour’s MP Plymouth Sutton and Devonport and Shadow Environment Secretary, in the most recent West Country Debate.

Since the end of the transition period after the UK’s departure from the EU free trade zone, exports of fresh fish and seafood have experienced significant disruption.

Boats line up in Plymouth harbour, where nearly 2,000 jobs are affected by the fishing industry Credit: PA

Industry representatives claim extra paperwork increases the difficulty of delivering fresh produce to mainland Europe.

Cllr Winter announced in a full council meeting on Monday 25 January that the Brexit panel will convene next month to assess what help could be provided for the industry.

He said: “We will engage where the government has not, and we will do what we can as a city to help our catchers and exporters get the support to maintain our local industry.

“We have gone from the potential for growth, to damage limitation. The fishing industry didn’t want handouts to shore up their losses, they wanted the deal and the benefits they were promised.

“These issues could be temporary, but that misses the point. For every day we aren’t exporting our goods, that’s another day of lost custom, and a customer who looks elsewhere for their supply, and their temporary supply fixes becoming permanent.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson extended his sympathies to the industry in the past week and said the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the issues as restaurants have been closed in lockdowns.

  • Report by Ed Oldfield, Local Democracy Reporting Service

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