Being outside EU rules could hurt Grimsby's seafood industry – and hike up price of fish and chips, MP warns
Companies such as Young's Seafood have helped Grimsby become famous for food such as fish fingers and fish and chips
By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 8 Dec 2017
Ministers have been implored not to let Grimsby’s fish processing industry go the same way as Norway's after Brexit – where 90 per cent of plants have closed down.
The loss of the town’s £6 billion-a-year industry would be "absolutely catastrophic" for many of the 5,000 people employed in the fish sector – and more expensive fish and chips for everyone else, Grimsby MP Melanie Onn warned the Government.
The Labour MP told ministers during the Westminster fishing debate on Thursday how Norway’s seafood processing industry – companies that turn fresh fish into plate-ready food such as fish fingers – had almost entirely collapsed after opting out of the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed that the UK will be outside the CFP after exiting the EU so Britain can control its fishing waters without interference from Brussels.
But Ms Onn warned that Norway – which is outside the EU but inside the European Economic Area (EEA) – had paid a great price for operating outside the CFP, with nine-out-of-ten processing plants closing down or relocating since its heyday 40 years ago.
MP for Greater Grimsby Melanie Onn (Image: Jon Corken)
Outside the CFP, Norway is forced to pay huge taxes on any processed fish it sells to the EU, a move that has almost killed-off that side of its fish trade.
The Nordic country had 100 filleting plants in the 1970s but today only 10 remain.
Ms Onn, a shadow minister, explained that it would be “absolutely catastrophic” if Grimsby’s main employment sector was to go the same way.
“Norway is often cited as an example of how the British fisheries sector could thrive outside of the Common Fisheries Policy,” said Ms Onn.
“What isn’t mentioned is the effect its position has had on its seafood processing sector. By opting out of the CFP, Norway has to accept losing market access in fisheries.
“This trade-off has seen the majority of its seafood processing sector relocate to the EU, with Britain being a substantial winner from that situation.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove wants to take Britain out of the Common Fisheries Policy - following Norway's example - after Brexit (Image: PA)
Being outside of the CFP means Norway cannot trade its processed foods – such as smoked salmon or fishcakes – into the EU common market without paying an export tax.
While it pays a “minimal” 2 per cent tariff on the fresh fish it sells to EU countries, processed fish faces a whopping 13 per cent charge.
Ms Onn urged Fishing Minister George Eustice to "ensure that is not the outcome waiting for Britain” and the town’s industry after Brexit.
“It would be absolutely catastrophic for jobs and industries in Great Grimsby,” she told MPs.
After her comments, Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw shouted to his Labour colleague, saying the collapse of seafood processing would also mean “more expensive fish and chips” – something Ms Onn agreed with.
Fish and chips could be made more expensive after Brexit, MPs have warned
Mr Eustice met with representatives of Grimsby’s seafood processing industry only last month, and Ms Onn said she recognised the issue of post-Brexit taxes was “on his agenda”.
Martin Vickers, MP for Cleethorpes, was not able to attend the debate as he was accompanying the Taiwanese ambassador on his visit to North East Lincolnshire.
Speaking beforehand, the Tory MP said he would be pressing on with the seafood trade’s suggestion of having free trade status or free ports – designated areas where import and export taxes are not applied – at the south Humber ports so as to skirt the issue of tariffs.
Mr Vickers said a free port policy would “allow for cost-free seafood trade around the world, with no customs checks or import tariffs”.
“The policy is fundamentally simple to introduce and can be implemented in a short period of time,” he said.
Fishing Minister George Eustice, pictured in Grimsby, will be publishing the Fisheries Bill early next year
In her closing remarks, Ms Onn reminded Mr Eustice that one-in-five employees in the processing sector comes from “overseas”. She said training for jobs in the industry would need to become “much more available” in the UK in order to fill the shortage if free movement of labour does end after Brexit.
Mr Eustice, who will be negotiating next year’s UK catch quota allocations with the EU next week, said the Fisheries Bill would be published “early next year” to “set-out clearly our approach” to fishing after Brexit. The Bill is likely to come before Parliament before summer 2018, he said.
The Cornwall MP said the Bill would make the UK “an independent coastal state” and take control of British waters up to 200-miles or the median line, as well as looking to address “the imbalance” of EU vessels fishing in British waters.