A supertrawler which normally catches around 10% of all the fish sold in the UK’s chip shops has left port for a one-off voyage to the sub-Arctic as talks continue with Norway over post-Brexit distant waters fishing rights.
Kirkella – which has been described as the pride of the UK’s distant-waters fishing fleet – has been tied up in St George’s Dock, Hull, since returning from her last trip at the beginning of December, leaving her 100-strong crew at home.
Despite much of debate on the Christmas Eve Brexit trade deal concentrating on the UK-EU fishing relationships, detailed agreements are still needed with the non-EU countries involved in the distant waters arrangements, including Norway.
On Wednesday, Kirkella left Hull for a trip to the icy waters around the island of Svalbard which the vessel’s owner, UK Fisheries, has described as a “sticking plaster”.
UK Fisheries says its licence means the number of fish it can catch will only allow this one trip. But this is about 10% of what it would have been allowed under the pre-Brexit regime.
There are no arrangements in place for UK to fish for Arctic cod in 2021.
UK government must agree continued UK fishing for Arctic Cod in bilateral deals with Norway. Norway wants zero tariff access to UK to sell fish. Needs urgent negotiations.
— UK Fisheries Ltd. (@UKFisheriesLtd) January 21, 2021
A spokesman said Kirkella will be “back at square one” when she returns in a few weeks unless there is a breakthrough in ongoing negotiations with Norway, which the Government says will be concluded “as soon as practicable”.
UK Fisheries chief executive Jane Sandell said: “We’re glad to be going out fishing at last, but this is only a sticking plaster.
“Kirkella will be out for a few weeks but then, unless something changes very soon, we’ll have no more work for our crews for the foreseeable future.”
She added: “We need the Government to sit down and start talking seriously with the Norwegians so that we can have some continuity in our operations and, hopefully, start to make some plans for future investments that will benefit jobs and the wider economy in the North East.
“The Svalbard licence that we have represents only a fraction of what we’d hope to be fishing in a decent year.
“That’s a bit like telling a farmer he can work his land, but only for a few days a month. We know the Government can do better than this and we urge them to get talking.”
The £52 million state-of-the-art Kirkella can freeze up to 780 tonnes of cod and haddock on each of its trips.
Earlier this month, Hull East Labour MP Karl Turner urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to step into the negotiations, saying it seems the Government “is hell-bent on putting the last nail in the coffin of distant waters fishing”.
The Government said licences have been issued to vessels to take 2,750 tonnes of cod, and associated by-catch of haddock, from the waters around Svalbard, in line with arrangements between the UK and Norway but negotiations are continuing.
A spokesman said on Tuesday evening: “As an independent coastal state, the UK can now influence the management of near and distant fish stocks to best serve the interests of the British fishing industry.
“Part of this will be done through negotiations or through bilateral relationships. Our overriding priority in all negotiations is to agree the right deal in the best interests of the entire British fishing industry.
“We have published the fishing opportunities for UK vessels for the first part of this year. This includes 2,750 tonnes of cod to be fished in the waters around Svalbard, which results from arrangements between the UK and Norway.
“The Kirkella has been licensed to fish this Svalbard cod and we expect her to sail imminently.”