April 30, 2019
By Andreas Mortensen
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – In the small fishing town of Thyboron on the northwestern coast of Denmark, many fishermen worry the British waters they have become increasingly dependent on will be out of reach when Britain leaves the European Union.
Poul Erik Rom, 35, and his father Ejvind, 65, are from a long line of fishermen. Each year they land fish worth some 25 million Danish Crowns ($3.75 million) from their vessel, one third of which come from British waters.
Poul Erik began his career in the offshore oil industry, but in 2011 he bought into a fishing vessel made by his father, who has been a fisherman all his life.
“I like the unpredictability of fishing. Sometimes we catch 200 kilos, sometimes two tonnes, and we never know what prices we will get,” says Poul Erik.
But the uncertainty as Britain leaves the European Union is more excitement than he had hoped for.
Since the 1970s, EU fishermen have had access to British waters under a deal, that many in Britain saw as unfair. Now some see Brexit as a chance to “take back control” of their waters and keep foreign vessels out.
“This town could end up closing down because of Brexit,” says fisherman Michael Bork, 36, who has been fishing since the age of 10.
Between 30 and 40 percent of the catch landed in Thyboron Port come from British waters.
“We just hope we can stay afloat. But without access to British waters, fishing spots in Danish waters will be congested with Dutch and Belgian fishermen along with the Danish vessels. There simply aren’t enough fish for that. The industry will collapse,” says Michael Bork.
In 2015 – one year before the British voted to leave the EU – Poul Erik and his father retrofitted their vessel to make room for a bigger catch on their longer journeys deeper into British waters.
“It seems like we have to sail further and further away from the shore to find the fish,” says Poul Erik, who worries what will happen if he is restricted access to British water.
The problem for Poul Erik and his father is that as the water warms due to climate change, the fish they rely on such as cod and haddock tend to swim toward colder waters nearer the UK and further north.
Under a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario, Britain can choose to close its sea border completely overnight or wait until the end of 2019, according to the Danish fishing minister.
If a deal is reached, EU fishing vessels could have temporary access until a permanent trade deal is reached.
European Union leaders this month gave Britain six more months until Oct. 31 to leave the bloc, but the British political elite is still squabbling over how, when or if it will Brexit. The latest postponement essentially means all options – including the hard exit are open.
“For me personally I could lose my job, if our fishing in British waters was limited,” says Mikkel Jakobsen, 22, who works onboard the Pia Glanz fishing vessel along with nine other crew.
“It’s always annoying when politics get in the way,” says Jakobsen. “We ordinary people can’t do much about it anyway no matter how loudly we speak.”
The uncertainty is already having an impact on the local fishing industry, as new investments are being held back in ships and fishing quotas.
Poul Erik and his father’s vessel, which is worth 20-25 million crowns, goes out to sea 300 days a year, with five onboard at any one time out of a total crew of seven.
Poul Erik has had to start considering what to do if Danish boats are excluded from British waters, and what that would mean for his livelihood. The choices are stark. He doesn’t want to return to his previous work, he doesn’t want to sell his boat for much less than it is worth.
“If I was to sell it all when everyone is struggling, I would get nothing for my ship or my quotas. And of course I owe the bank a lot of money, which I’m sure they would like to get back.”
(Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Alexandra Hudson)