Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the reason he took a “staggered” approach to post-Brexit fishing quotas was because he did not believe the industry was capable of catching “what was available from day one”.
EU fishers will have access to UK waters until 2026 as part of the withdrawal arrangement that came into effect at the start of this year.
Since then, estimated millions of pounds of fishing produce has been lost as a result of “bureaucratic” delays and issues transporting goods to mainland Europe.
Industry bodies including the Scottish Fisherman’s Federation said business owners were left “fearing for the future” and called the actions of the UK Government a “failure”.
The “Christmas eve deal” sees 25% of EU quota handed back to UK fishermen by 2026, after which the two sides will negotiate over future fishing rights.
It allows for the EU or UK to impose tariffs on the other’s exports in the event of serious disagreements over fishing access, leading many to claim that the deal will see no major change for the industry.
Mr Johnson spoke to Scottish journalists on Thursday, during a trip First Minister Nicola Sturgeon questioned was “essential“.
When asked why the industry should trust him after the issues faced at the beginning of the year, Mr Johnson said: “I am not going to quibble that there were and are teething problems with the beginning of the new approach.
“We have supplied another £23 million to help people who have genuinely experienced bureaucratic problems and delays through no fault of their own and we are trying to smooth all those out.
“But it is also the case there is a very substantial increase in the stocks available to fishers in Scotland; increases in North Sea Cod, haddock, a 25% increase altogether.”
He added: “The only reason I accepted the staggered approach was because I was not convinced in my own mind we had the resources as a country to fish quite what is potentially available from day one.
“What we want to do is build up the industry in Scotland and elsewhere so people have the equipment, training and a processing industry capable of handling it and that is why we set up the task force to deliver the £100 million investment, working with the fishing industry to get ready for that moment.”
The prime minister said that Scottish and UK fishers would, as a default, have access to the entirety of the country’s territorial waters by 2026, which would give them access to “colossal quantities” of fish.
Fishing industry in ‘worst of both worlds’
Repeating what she wrote to the prime minister earlier this month, SFF chief executive Elspeth Macdonald said: “The government has spun a line about a 25% uplift in quota for the UK but… this is not true, and the deal does not deliver that.
“The adjustment in shares falls very far short of (the) stated policy of basing these on zonal attachment. While there are some modest increases for some commercially important stocks, these fall very far short of zonal attachment.
“This industry now finds itself in the worst of both worlds. The deal leaves us with shares that not only fall very far short of zonal attachment but in many cases fail to ‘bridge the gap’ compared to historic catches and with no ability to leverage more fish from the EU, as they have full access to our waters.
“This, coupled with the chaos experienced since January 1 in getting fish to market means that many in our industry now fear for their future, rather than look forward to it with optimism and ambition.”
SNP accuse prime minister of ‘lying’
SNP candidate for Banffshire and Buchan Coast Karen Adam said: “Boris Johnson has been caught hook, line and sinker repeating total lies to Scotland’s fishermen.
“The industry is quite rightly livid with the total disregard this Tory government has shown towards vital seafood businesses in the middle of a global pandemic.
“Anywhere this Tory Prime Minister goes he leaves behind him a trail of lies, bluster and broken promises. He must set the record straight and apologise to the industry for repeating this false narrative.
“Scotland has been ignored and lied to since day one of this Tory Brexit process.
“People in Scotland have the right to choose a better future – it’s clearer than ever the only way to protect our interests is through independence.”
Boris Johnson ‘scared’
Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael said: “In as much as it makes any sense at all, the government message today is that they have set up a compensation fund to pay money to people who themselves have caused any problems that they have and for whom the future apparently holds nothing but great opportunities.
“There is only one reason why Boris Johnson didn’t meet Scottish fishermen and it is because he is scared to face them. He used fishermen to get what he wanted in Brexit. Now that he has it, he has no further interest in them.
“It is insulting to blame fishermen for the shambles he created. Talk of teething problems is complacent nonsense.
“If things are as rosy as the Prime Minister pretends then you wonder why they are setting up the task force, at all?
“Instead of coming to Scotland today the Prime Minister should have stayed home, repaired the damage he has done and worked to save fishing livelihoods.”