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Jamie Stone says fishing industry is 'drowning in sea of government incompetence'

By Gordon Calder

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Fishing boat skippers are not being treated equally or fairly, according to Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone.
Fishing boat skippers are not being treated equally or fairly, according to Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone.

North MP Jamie Stone has warned that the fishing industry is "drowning in a sea of government incompetence" following Brexit.

Highlighting the plight of fishermen in the Highlands since the UK left the European Union, Mr Stone accused of Boris Johnston's government of a "negligent attitude" towards the industry.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross claimed that skippers are frustrated they are not "being treated equally or fairly", while the policing of UK waters is ineffective with British boats being inspected five times more than their foreign counterparts.

Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, EU boats can continue to fish in UK waters for at least five years.

One skipper has informed him there are "increased stand-offs between boats which pose serious risks to life", while another wants aggressive boats banned from landing their fish in British ports.

Mr Stone was also told that the cost of getting fish to markets in Europe had "almost doubled" post-Brexit.

"Haulier costs are going up and transport delays are commonplace, which reduces the sale price of produce because its value is connected to freshness," the MP said.

Speaking in a House of Commons debate secured by Orkney and Shetland Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, Mr Stone said: "I think I may be the only member of the House of Commons that has actually worked in a fish factory. I know first-hand how important the fishing industry is to our economy, our culture and also our health.

"I cannot say, in all honesty, that the Conservatives share that understanding of the industry nor do they genuinely care for it."

Mr Stone said: "The government hasn’t given a debate to fisheries management since the Brexit deal – we literally had to force them into discussing it. I have to say, the minister’s refusal to properly engage with the issue didn’t comfort me.

"Their refusal to meet exposes the Conservatives’ negligent attitude toward the fishing industry. They’re happy to use fishing as a political football, not much more.

"Alistair Carmichael and I pleaded for the fisheries minister [Victoria Prentis] to come to a round-table discussion with fishing industry workers from the Highlands and Islands, members of all political parties and devolved administrations. Guess what – she buried her head in the sand and sidestepped our direct calls. That tells you all you need to know about how committed this government really is to the fishing industry."

A UK government spokesman said: "The UK and the EU have agreed an historic Fisheries Framework Agreement that reflects the UK’s new status as an independent coastal state and works to protect and promote the rights of fishermen across the UK.

"While the export situation has improved since January, we know that there are still challenges for the seafood sector, including additional costs and administrative burdens. We are therefore working with industry on longer-term opportunities to improve export systems and reduce certification burdens, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises.

"The UK government’s commitment of up to £23 million has provided targeted support to Scottish businesses – and a further £100 million has been dedicated to rejuvenating the industry and coastal communities across the UK in the longer term."

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