THE ORGANISATION representing Scottish fishermen has warned they will not be convinced the UK Government will not trade away fisheries “until they see the ink dry” on post-Brexit negotiations – warning that the industry has long memories of the sector being treated as “expendable”.  

Talks are taking place between the UK and EU to determine key areas such as future trading relationships and fisheries policy. But with the transition period due to expire at the end of this year, there are fears the UK may be forced into a no-deal scenario, if an agreement cannot be reached – with some calling for the UK Government to ask for an extension to the transition period. 

Boris Johnson has repeatedly said that no extension will be asked for. Common ground is yet to be agreed over future fisheries arrangements between the EU and UK.

Appearing before Holyrood’s Europe Committee, Elspeth Macdonald the chief executive officer of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, warned that the organisation remains “naturally sceptical” that the UK Government won’t trade away fishing access in return for a better deal for the financial services or other industries which are worth more to the economy

But she warned MSPs that her organisation does not want to see an extension to the post-Brexit transition period, which is due to expire by the end of the year. 

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SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing quizzed Ms Macdonald over the prospect that the UK Government “will trade away fishing interests for a deal elsewhere", asking whether her members were concerned this was “a risk that could happen”.  

Ms Macdonald said the SFF “would always be concerned” that fishing interests could be traded away in post-Brexit negotiations. 

She said: “I think there are long memories that go back to when the UK joined the EU and the settlement that emerged through the common fisheries policy was certainly not to the advantage of the UK fishing industry.  

“Indeed, there has been commentary since then in terms of how fisheries were considered as expendable. There are long memories in this industry and many of the people involved then are still involved through family businesses. Absolutely there are concerns that there will be pressures coming from other sectors, bearing in mind that the value of the fishing industry is relatively small in overall terms.”  

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She added: “However, I think my members are reassured  by the messages from the UK Government in terms of them recognising the sovereign importance of controlling access to our natural resources and Mr Frost, the lead negotiator, was very clear when he gave evidence to the Westminster Brexit committee recently – that he did not regard fisheries as something that could be traded away for anything else. 

“I think the Government are clear in their messaging and their signalling that they do not intend  to trade fisheries for something else. But I think my members will be naturally sceptical until they see the ink dry and it’s my job to make sure that we keep as much pressure on the Government to make sure that they don’t trade away what is a hugely valuable natural resource.” 

Tory MSP Oliver Mundell, in a dig at some politicians calling for the Brexit transition period to be extended, asked if the SFF was concerns about the calls that are “affectively pushing to keep Scottish fishermen trapped in the CFP (common fisheries policy) for longer than is necessary”. 

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Ms Macdonald warned that some aspects of the  CFP makes “life very difficult for the industry”, adding that under the rules, “the industry in Scotland is only entitled to catch less than 40 per cent of the fish that are in our waters”. 

She added: “Certainly my members are not keen to be trapped in the CFP for a moment longer than is necessary.  

“The CFP creates a real injustice in terms of our ability to make use of our own natural resources.” 

Ms Macdonad said that the SFF “don’t want to see an extension to the Brexit process” - instead appealing for a deal to be struck between the two parties.

She said: "I think we've always been clear that we have never said that EU vessels should not have access to UK waters in future but that has to be the subject of annual negotiations. 

"We're not seeking anything unusual, we are simply seeking the same sort of arrangement that the EU has with other neighbouring coastal states such as Norway."

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The SFF has previously called for the deal with the EU to ensure the UK is considered an independent coastal state with total control over fishing waters. 

Economic geography Professor Sarah Hall, of Nottingham University, told MSPs there could be an extension agreed to the transition period in the autumn. 

She said: "If the UK is seeking an extension it should ask for an extension. 

"That being said, my reading of the situation is that where there's a will to implement an extension come the autumn, then usually a way could be found to do that but it's not as straightforward as in June." 

Professor Hall added "as you get closer to the wire" in terms of end of the transition period, more companies - particularly those in financial services - will implement plans to move part of their business out of the UK to preserve their European operations.