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Fishing leaders take case to No. 10 – but is May listening?

SFF chairman Ian Gatt, Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins, SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong and Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive John Anderson outside Downing Street on Wednesday.

FISHING leaders including Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Simon Collins took their case to bring back “complete control” of UK waters to the corridors of 10 Downing Street.

It comes after the industry reacted furiously to news that the fishing fleet would remain subject to the much-loathed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) during almost two years of the transitional period after Britain exits the EU in spring 2019.

That was contrary to promises made to fishermen during the Brexit campaign, and many fear a repeat of the 1970s, when the Tory government was widely viewed to have let the industry down in negotiating the terms to join the European community.

In a statement following a meeting with Theresa May, fishermen said the Prime Minister had “indicated that she understood the widespread dismay within the industry” at a deal leaving skippers and crews bound by the CFP until December 2020.

They said she had agreed the focus now had to be on the final Brexit deal and delivering what “both the government and the industry want – fairer shares for UK fishermen”.

During May’s recent appearance before the House of Commons liaison committee, she was asked whether the UK would have full control of its waters from January 2021 onwards, and responded: “For the 2021 catch we will have been part of the negotiations as part of an independent coastal state.”

Following Wednesday’s meeting, Scottish Fishing Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: “We are very grateful to the Prime Minister for agreeing to meet us, and I’m pleased to say that we now have a commitment from both sides to work together to achieve the ‘sea of opportunity’ that Brexit presents for the fishing industry.

“We had sincerely hoped that in 365 days’ time we would be free from the shackles of the utterly disastrous CFP and starting to build a better future for our industry.

“But now we must work with government to make sure that when the transition period is over we have control of our seas – access, quotas and management measures – to allow us to harvest fairer shares of UK stocks.”

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael, who has long warned the industry to be wary of promises from the government amid fears they may trade access to UK waters away for access to European markets, remains sceptical.

“I would have been more impressed if the Prime Minister had met fishermen before she broke her promises to them on the transitional period,” he said on Wednesday.

“I hope she now understands that if she does this again on the final arrangements then she risks losing the whole Brexit deal. Ideally I would want a Prime Minister who had the political will and authority to do the right thing by our fishermen. In the absence of that, one that can be forced to do the right thing will have to do.”