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David Dickens, chief executive of The Fishermen’s Mission, said Britain’s long-suffering fishing industry could be hit by a fourth blow in what he called a “quadruple whammy” of unfortunate events over the past year. His candid comments came as the EU and the UK embarked on an “intensified phase of talks” in London after Michel Barnier said a compromise would be needed on both sides, not just in Britain, in order to reach an agreement.
Mr Dickens heads the charity which provides financial, practical and spiritual support for fishermen and their families across the UK.
He said many fishermen he deals with have expressed confusion over which certificates they will need to sell their fish to Europe after December 31.
The advice published on the Government’s website says an export health cert and catch cert will be needed to transport seafood to mainland Europe – but it tells fishermen and wholesalers that other papers may be required for their product to pass-through ports.
The charity boss said the information from DEFRA has left many fishermen scratching their heads while others feel reluctant to start the process required for the big changes lying around the corner.
While he said there is “lots of guidance out there”, it is simply not sufficient for many exporters who will be hit with major changes to the way they operate in just a few short weeks.
And he said while for the past few months “the focus has been on the deal”, many figures in the industry are set for a giant shock at ports come
January 1 – deal or no deal.
Mr Dickens told Express.co.uk: “There’s been COVID-19 price cuts and uncertainty regarding what will happen with Brexit and if the fishermen don’t get things done there may be a shed load of chaos in January.
“We have predicted being very busy as a charity.
“There is a lot of guidance out there but the issue, particularly for rank and file fishermen, is which certificates are needed.”
He said fishermen up and down the country have weathered their fair share of storms over the past 12 months and any port chaos caused by a lack of Brexit planning could be the final straw for some of them.
Unsettled weather throughout last winter affected trawlers’ ability to catch and just weeks into the new year the industry began suffering the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The public health crisis seriously affected tourism in Britain and on mainland Europe, causing demand for some species to plummet.
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Fishermen were faced with a noticeable drop in market prices for their catch as they struggled to keep afloat during the epidemic.
These factors together with the uncertainty over a post-Brexit trade deal that continued throughout the summer served as a “triple whammy” to the fishing industry, said Mr Dickens.
And he warned if sufficient preparations for the end of the transition period were not made, fishermen and wholesalers sending a product to Europe could be hit by a fourth blow in a “quadruple whammy”.
So, could chaos at ports cause some members of the industry to go under?
Mr Dickens said: “From the experience of the downturn in demand from Europe as a result of COVID-19, many sectors of the industry understand that their businesses rely significantly on access to European markets.
“Some elements of the supply chain, especially for fresh product, could be adversely affected by non-tariff delays, such as border controls.
“The reality is if guys can’t sell and deliver a product at the right place at the right time and at the right quality they will struggle.”
Mr Barnier and Lord Frost focused on fishing rights during their “intensified” talks on Friday.
The resumption of negotiations came after Brussels’ chief Brexit negotiator injected a note of optimism into the prospect of a deal, saying such an agreement was “within reach”.
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