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Thanet Fishermen's Association chairman left frustrated by Brexit deal

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When fishermen across Kent celebrated the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum, it was hoped the result would breathe new life into the UK's fishing industry.

According to John Nichols, chairman of Thanet Fishermen's Association, many skippers voted for the UK to leave the EU in the hopes that Britain would take back control of its waters and start to rebuild its fleets around the coast.

John Nichols, Thanet Fishermen's Association chairman, is frustrated by the deal

But fast forward to the beginning of 2021 and the lifelong fisherman has been left exasperated by the outcome of the deal struck with the EU.

Boris Johnson's Brexit deal, which was granted royal assent on Wednesday, has been accused of leaving fishermen worse off that they were under the common fisheries policy.

Under the deal, fishing vessels from the EU will have full access to UK waters until 2026.

During this time 25% of the value of the fish caught by the EU would be repatriated.

Ramsgate harbour
Ramsgate harbour

Mr Nichols described the industry as being the 'sacrificial lamb for the second time'.

He said: "We were looking forward to a bright future for the fishing industry, an opportunity to rebuild, and then it was taken from us the other day.

"We had an opportunity to become a world leader in fishing again like we were 50-60 years ago - we have the best fishing grounds in the world, we just haven't taken back control of those grounds and we've allowed Europe to virtually continue exactly the same as it was two weeks ago."

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the agreement with the EU is the 'best possible deal' for the fishing industry, and a large-scale funding package would be announced in the future to support the UK's fishermen.

But the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations described the blow to the fishing industry as a 'betrayal' on behalf of the government.

The association supports skippers in Thanet, Whitstable and Queenborough
The association supports skippers in Thanet, Whitstable and Queenborough

In a statement released on Boxing Day, it said: "Throughout the fishing industry there is a profound sense of disillusionment, betrayal, and fury that after all the rhetoric, promises and assurances, the government caved-in on fish.

"The fishing industry will want it clearly understood that the best opportunity in a generation for a different and better future has been squandered."

The federation reported that after a further five-year wait, the UK's share of Channel cod will have only risen from 9.3% to 10.2%.

Meanwhile Celtic Sea haddock will go from 10% to 20%, with the remaining 80% going to EU fleets until 2026.

Speaking to KentOnline in December, Mr Nichols called for an immediate investment from government into the fishing industry if Britain could regain full control of its waters.

The fishing industry largely campaigned to leave the EU due to the fishing quota. Picture: Chris Davey
The fishing industry largely campaigned to leave the EU due to the fishing quota. Picture: Chris Davey

But the deal stuck between Britain and the EU has given him a far bleaker outlook.

He said: "I'm not commercially fishing now - I'm really glad I'm not to be absolutely honest - but I represent the lads to the best of my ability and I was hoping for them to be able to rebuild their future.

"I was hoping to see the boats in Ramsgate that go to sea with just one person be able to afford to take two people, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen now."

While the finer details of the fisheries deal have yet to be communicated to Mr Nichols and his colleagues, there is a shared feeling amongst industry representatives that skippers have been left by the government to float in the dark.

Mr Nichols added: "I think there's more tears to come, and real tears."

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