Former skipper fearful about Brexit’s impact on fishing

John Buchan at Peterhead harbour
John Buchan at Peterhead harbour

A retired north-east fishing skipper has warned the industry must “wake up” to what the fall-out from Brexit will mean for the Scottish fleet.

John Buchan, who lives in Peterhead, said he decided to speak out amid growing uncertainty about what awaits the sector after Brexit.

Mr Buchan, who skippered the Fairline, was a seventh generation fisherman until he retired five years ago.

He said: “Skippers have long memories and some might say retired skippers have the longest memories of all.

“But having seen huge changes over a lifetime working in the fishing industry, I feel pretty well-qualified to talk about the last 40 years and what the future might hold.

“Over the years I’ve been as critical of the CFP (Common Fisheries Policy) as the next man. It’s deeply flawed and at times it’s made life extremely difficult for all of us trying to earn a living from the sea.

“But every fisherman knows, if we’re honest, that the CFP isn’t to blame for all the changes and challenges we’ve experienced in the industry.

“The contraction of the sector, the concentration in fewer hands – these same trends are evident in commercial fleets outside the CFP, and have been driven more by technological changes, market forces and the state of fish stocks than by anything else.

“There’s a similar story all over the world of bigger and fewer boats, with more mechanisation and greater efficiency, catching for a global market.”

Mr Buchan said nearly two-thirds of the fish caught by UK boats was destined for export markets, with more than 70% going to EU countries, while a “significant portion” went to other parts of the world under EU trade deals.

He added: “It would be downright reckless to jeopardise that essential market in a naive belief that it will be easy to find alternatives.

“Everyone would like to see the Scottish fleet get a fairer share of the fish stocks in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone).

“But if we can’t get our fish to market, it makes no difference how much quota we’re allowed to catch or who fishes in our waters.

“I suspect the sober heads in the industry know this, as do processors who export high value species to the EU and can see the writing on the wall.”

Industry chiefs insist the UK’s exit from the EU and the single market will not threaten exports.

Mr Buchan said: “I’ve heard it said that premium products like top quality Scottish langoustine will find its way to market because of demand.

“The problem is that it won’t be prime quality if it’s had to sit several days in a lorry at Calais, or in a customs warehouse, waiting to be cleared.

“It’s not tariffs that will make life really difficult for exporters, it’s the other barriers the EU puts in place for third countries.

“If they want to make problems for us, they will.

“Leaving the CFP could have presented opportunities, but by leaving the single market and customs union instead of seeking a Norwegian style deal the UK risks a massive own goal.”