Off the Devon coast, the catches this month have been good, but their value has halved.
The introduction of catch certificates and customs declarations has led to delays at the border. Sick of waiting, European buyers have been rejecting the fish.
The result for crews is that three weeks into January they’re making hundreds of pounds less every day they go sea. It’s left many in this staunchly pro-Brexit sector questioning their vote.
“I think, if we knew this was going to happen, I honestly think things might have been different, people would have voted differently, fishermen would’ve looked at things in a different light,” says fisherman Simon Driver.
Fishermen feel deceived
Dave and his son Simon’s family, have been fishing in these waters, off the Devon coast, since the 16th century.
They viewed Brexit as a once in a generation opportunity, to right – what they saw – as the wrongs of the common fisheries policy.
Instead, they feel deceived – by Boris Johnson
“They kept bleeting on that ‘yes, the fishermen are going to get a better life, more fish – control of our waters’,” says Simon’s father Dave.
“So that, I believe made a lot of people vote to come out at Brexit. And it didn’t work did it. All those people that voted hoping for the fishing industry to become a better industry – they’ve all been lied to.
“All written on the side of buses, driving round London: ‘We’re going to fight for the fishing industry.’ They haven’t fought for our industry at all.”
The problems are specifically connected to issues at the border, which have meant – in the worst cases – fish rotting before it is able to get across the channel. There is anger and confusion throughout this industry, much of it aimed at the government.
Switching to frozen shellfish for the export market
To make ends meet, Ben Vass says he’s parted ways with two crew members and converted his boat from catching fish for a European market last month to catching whelks, freezing and exporting them to Asia.
“Brexit has made it really hard to get our produce out of the country,” he says.
“All the EU that used to buy a lot of our fish, they’ve stopped because the fish that were getting transferred were going bad. So we’ve lost our whole export market.”
There are around 12,000 people working on UK-registered fishing vessels. Many now feel they’re facing an uncertain future.
“80% of our sales get shipped to the EU, so obviously now it’s all stopped,” says Nathan Daley. “Our prices have dropped. All our fish is getting frozen. So it’s just rubbish, it’s pointless at the moment.”
The government says it’s working closely with the fishing industry and the EU, to address the issues caused by added documentation. And that it will provide financial support to those who have been affected by delays.