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The Government must protect Fal Oyster fishing

21 February 2021.

The ancient Fal Oyster fishing industry is still in the news as one of the high profile casualties of Brexit. We had a Sky News crew on the Fal this week and it even got a mention on Countryfile.

To sum up, in 2008 the EU countries including the UK (Nigel Farage himself was actually on the EU fishing committee that considered this decision) agreed that some shellfish couldn’t be imported into the EU without a purification process for safety. Waters were classified into grades according to cleanliness – A, B and C. The Fal, due to agricultural and other run off from the land and sewage discharge, isn’t clean enough to be Grade A. That means all shellfish caught here have to be purified before it can be sold.

Before Brexit, we sent our shellfish over to France to be purified on arrival. If purification was done here it wouldn’t last as long. Now we’re outside the EU we simply cannot do that. We have fallen foul of an EU law we helped to make.

Fishers and exporters raised this issue with DEFRA 2 years ago, as they understood the potential risk to the industry. But they were ignored. The last minute Christmas Eve Brexit deal completely ignored the issue too. So, on 1 January, shellfish exports from the Fal to EU wholesalers became pretty much impossible.

George Eustice said he had a letter from the European Commission confirming that it would make special arrangements for the UK. That didn’t turn out to be the case and he is now claiming that the EU are misinterpreting their own law. The bottom line is this: Mr Eustice and his Fishing Minister Victoria Prentis MP (who recently admitted she didn’t even read the Brexit deal because she was busy organising the village nativity), ignored the risk to the fishing industry to get the deal through. Now what they are claiming to be ‘teething problems’ is pretty obviously an industry that’s been permanently sacrificed on the altar of Brexit.

There are things we can do: clean up the Fal; start a sustained campaign to sell this amazing shellfish in this country; get more infrastructure on the Fal. But, it’s very late to start now. The season finishes in March, and the final twist of the knife is that the shellfish exporters can’t even access the compensation funds the government has set up to try to rescue their industry, because they aren’t eligible for them.

As fisherman Steve Walker said last week – “It’s heartbreaking to think this Government would do that to an industry.” Particularly one as iconic, sustainable and enmeshed in Cornwall’s history and culture.

The Falmouth Packet

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