Whitby’s MEP was in town to meet local fishermen for a chat last Friday, but with the majority of the fleet out at sea there was a disappointing turnout.
Only Jon Whitton, of the Never Can Tell A and Anne Hornigold, headmistress of the Whitby Fishing School, were able to represent Whitby fishermen at the meeting with Linda McAvan, member of the European Parliament for Yorkshire and the Humber.
The European policy on fishing is to be reviewed next year, with a review to reforming the legislation. Mrs McAvan had taken the opportunity to visit Whitby fishermen as part of a Yorkshire tour, but it seems word of her visit had not got out quick enough to allow everyone to attend.
Mrs Hornigold said: “I spoke to a fisherman yesterday and he said he didn’t know anything about it. We are battling and the whole thing is dying. Unless someone becomes as a saviour for Whitby port it’s going to close and that will be dire.”
Mrs Hornigold’s school runs apprenticeships for trainee fishermen, but in an industry in decline, and with the withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance, she is concerned that the fishing industry’s future is as bleak as its present.
Mrs McAvan, a member of cross-party MEP group Fish for the Future, said she and her colleagues will have a vital role to play over the next year to make sure that this time the EU gets the legislation correct, to hopefully save Whitby’s flagging fishing industry.
She said: “There used to be tuna in the North Sea, that shows that it isn’t the EU that killed the fish, it happened before.
“There’s obviously lots of complex issues that need to be resolved within Europe and within the UK.
“This will be the first time MEPs will be involved with the fisheries policy and what I wanted to do today was to find out what the real issues were on the ground.
“I think the outcome will be a lot more devolution to national government.
“People need to be able to make a decent living and if you are not going to make a living you are not going to do it. I am here to find out what we can change at the top end to make it better for the fishermen.
“British fishing is a national heritage.”
The only professional fisherman to attend was Mr Whitton, who runs recreational angling trips off his small boat for tourists.
He said: “Years ago we could catch what we wanted, then the EU decided they wanted restrictions so somebody came up with a figure that was probably unrealistic.
“What they are doing is essentially holding the fishermen to ransom.”
Former Labour MP Colin Challen also attended the meeting and echoed the fears of many residents when he said: “I was wondering if somehow the quota system was altered so there was more fish allowed, there would not be much benefit anyway, that the capacity has diminished so much that we would get a lift from it.
“Is it too late? If you were looking at regional development money and there has not been any at all from the regional growth fund, if you were to say ‘we want to encourage it to grow’ it would be a non-starter because there’s not any industry left here.”
Mr Challen asked whether there was a possibility that Whitby’s market could run part time and added: “There’s a question that if you are a council and you want to maintain a fishing industry, do you concentrate your business in one area where you can have it working at a critical mass or do you support it out across the borough?”
The meeting, at the Fishermen’s Club on The Cragg, was organised by Gerald Bennett, vice-chairman of the Whitby Labour Party, and he said Mrs McAvan hopes to get another chance to speak with fishermen in the near future: “She wanted to come to Whitby as part of a tour around Yorkshire.
“I tried to arrange the meeting to get fishermen to meet us, but obviously they weren’t here. Linda has promised to come back for another chat when it’s possible, but she’s an MEP so she’s busy, and the fisherman are also busy so it might take a while to arrange.”