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No-deal Brexit could cost 2,500 jobs in Belgian fisheries

© Michel Wal via Wkimedia
Nieuwpoort fish market
© Michel Wal via Wkimedia

A no-deal Brexit, by which the United Kingdom leaves the European Union at the end of March without an agreed arrangement for trading relations, could put at risk 2,500 jobs in the Belgian fishing industry, according to Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois. Bourgeois was meeting with representatives of the fishing industry, which is concentrated in Flanders at the coast. The previous day he had met with British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, and Bourgeois reassured the fishermen that he was confident a global agreement could be reached on Brexit, even at this late stage.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, EU fishermen would lose access to British waters, which would affect the industry in other countries as well as Belgium, including France, Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark.

If Britain does agree to some kind of deal, the two parties would then enter into a transition phase during which access to territorial waters would be among the many subjects discussed. The UK has its own reasons for wanting an agreement, for access to EU waters and markets, where its boats can currently sell fish varieties that are less popular on the home market.

But the balance is not equal: in 2015, EU boats took a total of 683,000 tonnes of fish in British waters under the Common Fisheries Policy; British boats by contrast caught only 110,000 tonnes in the waters of other EU member states.

A lifeline for the industry could be a proposal made by the Commission in January, whereby in the event of no deal, existing conditions of reciprocal access would be maintained, while total allowable catches and quotas would remain at the levels negotiated within EU28 for 2019. That arrangement would continue until the end of the year, by which time the industry would hope for a solution to the impasse to be found.

Meanwhile a Belgian company, Atsea Nova, based in the inland town of Ronse in East Flanders, is ready to install a fully-functional automated seaweed farm at two locations off the British coast. The company, set up two years ago, has spent 4.7 million euros developing the technology for the project, which can now be sold as a key-in-door operation elsewhere.

“It has taken some time,” business development manager Patrice Vandendaele told De Tijd. “We are pioneers. The farm is a technological first, and we had to develop a machine from scratch to carry out sowing and harvesting. And at sea, that’s not easy.”

At present the seaweed market is dominated by Asia, which produces millions of tonnes harvested by hand. Hence the need for Europe to automate.

The seaweed produced by the British farms is not intended for sushi, however. Seaweed extracts are used in many applications, such as thickeners for yogurt, skin creams, bacterial cultures in laboratories and animal feed producing less methane.

In Belgium itself, meanwhile, the first harvest from a seaweed farm off the coast of Nieuwpoort is due to come ashore in May.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times