In Thyboron, a port in western Denmark, the sky is grey and overcast and fishermen look just as gloomy as soon as the word Brexit is mentioned.
Almost all of the 2,000 people who live here know a fisherman whose livelihood depends largely on catches in British waters.
For several years now, Tamme Bolt’s trawler has increasingly fished in British waters, following the fish as they migrate further north in the North Sea.
Bolt, a good-natured fisherman in his 50s who heads a crew of 10, tells AFP that if he no longer has access to British waters, “we will lose one third of our income” and he might have to lay off people.
Many of the 300-strong local fishermen’s association, Denmark’s biggest, catch between 10 and 70 percent of their haul in the British part of the North Sea, reeling in cod, herring and sand eel among others.
The “Tina Jeannette”, a gleaming 247-tonne trawler, catches its entire haul in the British zone.
Britain left the EU in January, and negotiators have failed so far to agree on how to assign fishing quotas in its waters as it regains its status as an independent coastal state — sparking concern among Europe’s fishermen used to plying their trade in the Atlantic, the North Sea and the English Channel.
“The whole value chain is in fact at risk of the negative consequences of a hard Brexit,” warns Thyboron harbour captain Jesper Holt Jensen.
Here, the entire community would be affected: in the Lemvig municipality that includes the port, five percent of jobs depend on the fishing sector.
Failing an agreement, non-British fishermen will not have access to British waters, which could lead to considerable losses: up to 10 million kroner locally, and a billion kroner (134 million euros) nationwide, estimates Alfred Fisker Hansen, the head of the association.
– Time running short –
The looming January 1 expiry of current EU agreements is rapidly approaching but so far it’s impossible to say when a deal could be reached — the exact scenario Hansen was hoping would be avoided.
In Thyboron, a large part of the fish caught in British waters are turned into fishmeal for fish farms, like at TripleNine, Scandinavia’s largest fishmeal and fish oil company.
For chief executive Jes Bjerregaard, “a good Brexit would be a Brexit where it continues to be as it is today.”
Pending a deal, “we’re just awaiting the conclusions after which we’ll have to take necessary actions to minimise a potential loss.”
And time is running out, he says.
His concerns are echoed at Nordsotrawl, which makes fish nets for trawlers.
In a large building by the dock, overlooking the moored boats preparing to head out to sea, employees are busy at work on a big order from a Norwegian vessel.
Weaving the shimmery colourful nets by hand, the 20 employees chat away as the local radio plays in the background. Here, nobody knows what their future holds.
“It will have a big impact on the fishing fleet but on us as well,” says the head of Nordsotrawl, Flemming Ruby.
– Traffic jams at sea –
Without access to Britain’s fish-rich waters, “of course we can go to some other places but that’s the same for the other boats, they’ll also have to move,” says Tamme Bolt.
“Norwegian, Danish, German, Dutch fishermen are going to be put together in small areas and that’s never good,” he warns.
And what about the very pro-Brexit British fishermen?
According to Alfred Fisker Hansen, they’ll be submerged and unable to exploit all the fish.
“I don’t think they have the fleet to catch it. They certainly don’t have the industry to fix it and hopefully they won’t have the market to sell it either,” he says with a smirk.
The most important thing is to have a lasting deal, underlines Hansen.
“We need a long-term agreement so we don’t have to renegotiate every year because that would be very tiresome for everybody.”
Britain reached a partial fishing deal with non-EU member Norway in late September, agreeing on quotas and mutual access to each other’s fishing zones, but these points are to be reviewed yearly.