Michael Gove has reportedly told European fishermen they will still be able to catch “large amounts” in British waters after Brexit.
The Environment Secretary is said to have told fishermen during a trip to Denmark that Britain’s fish industry is too small to process all the fish itself.
According to those present at a meeting with Mr. Gove, he said: “Britain has no fish cutters [employed to clean, trim and bone fish] or the production facilities enough to catch all the fish in British waters.”
The unexpected comment, made as the first round of withdrawal talks between Britain and EU continue, has delighted the European fishing industry but alarmed British fishermen.
Niels Wichmann, managing director of the Danish fisheries association, told the Jyllands-Posten newspaper: “Fishermen from Denmark and other EU countries will continue to have access to British waters after Brexit.
“It is a logical announcement but it is still very positive and a little surprising that it comes from a British minister so early in the negotiation process.”
In July Mr. Gove announced that Britain was leaving the 1964 London Fisheries Convention which allows European boats to fish within six and twelve nautical miles of the UK coastline.
Emiel Brouckaert, the director of the Rederscentrale fisherman’s organization in Ostend, Belgium, said: “We want access, the same split on quotas and to keep trade. The comments by the environment secretary are very positive and are heading in that direction.”
A Defra spokesman said: “Leaving the EU means we will take back control of our territorial waters. As we have always said, other countries will be able to access to our waters – but for the first time in 50 years, it will be on our terms and under our control.
“We will allocate quotas based on what is scientifically sustainable, making sure we have a healthy marine environment and profitable fishing industry in the UK.”
Dale Rodmell, the assistant chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said that any future deal must end the “unfair” EU quota system.
European boats landed more than half of the fish taken from British waters, he said, extracting four times the value of the catch allowed for the British fleet.
He told The Times: “Addressing this imbalance is essential. That is saying no access to the European fishing fleet but recognizing that it must be based on fairer and reciprocal returns.”