Fishermen Say They Were Misled About Brexit Vote Many British fishermen voted to leave the European Union, hoping they would get more control over fishing rights in British waters. But as Brexit negotiations drag on, that hope is fading.

Fishermen Say They Were Misled About Brexit Vote

Fishermen Say They Were Misled About Brexit Vote

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Many British fishermen voted to leave the European Union, hoping they would get more control over fishing rights in British waters. But as Brexit negotiations drag on, that hope is fading.


All right. Britain is set to leave the European Union in less than a year, and one of the groups that had been thrilled with the Brexit vote was fishermen. But as NPR's Daniella Cheslow reports, many of them now say they were misled.

RHYS WINNICOTT: So got crabs over the side as you can see.


R. WINNICOTT: Yeah. This is a spider crab. They're traditionally caught throughout the summer.

DANIELLA CHESLOW, BYLINE: Rhys Winnicott (ph) is 14, and he's home-schooled so he can spend more time with his dad, Lee (ph), on their boat off the shores of Milford Haven in Wales. His family has fished these waters for three generations.

R. WINNICOTT: Well, I'm hoping I can be the fourth-generation fisherman.

CHESLOW: Father and son prepare to set out to sea in their boat called Provider. It's a small vessel with peeling paint and piles of green nets. Another fisherman works on his boat next to theirs. For as long as Rhys can remember, his dad has told him the Welsh fishing industry suffers under European Union rules. Brussels sets quotas to prevent overfishing, and EU membership gives other countries the right to fish in British waters. And that's why Lee Winnicott voted for Brexit.

LEE WINNICOTT: I thought, once we come out, we'd have a better deal.

CHESLOW: But as the Brexit negotiations dragged on, the British government agreed to keep the current fishing system in place through 2020, long after Britain leaves the EU this coming March. That's not what Lee Winnicott expected.

L. WINNICOTT: We we were told, when we leave, we leave. That's it. Cut all ties with Europe. We'll go on our own. We'll do our own thing.

CHESLOW: As we talk, a foreign trawler sails into the harbour.

R. WINNICOTT: (Foreign language spoken). That's Belgium I think.

CHESLOW: It's white and green and has shark teeth painted on the bow, and it is loaded with more fish than Rhys and his dad will catch all year.

L. WINNICOTT: They're taking the majority of the fish and leaving us the scraps.

CHESLOW: Where are you guys from?


CHESLOW: You're from Belgium.


CHESLOW: I meet the Belgian skipper Hendrick Vetank (ph) as he wheels stacks of plastic boxes to the back of a truck.

HENDRICK: (Foreign language spoken).

CHESLOW: A crane on the boat lifts stacks of boxes full of fish from the deck and onto the dock. Vetank can barely keep pace. He says he'll keep bringing his fish here Brexit or not.

HENDRICK: Brexit is going to happen, and we are still going to fish here in the English waters and don't lose our quota.

CHESLOW: That won't wash says Steve Dewayne (ph), secretary of a local fishermen's association.

STEVE DEWAYNE: After Brexit, they should put Royal Navy ships out there, and they should drive them out of our waters. And that's what they should do.

CHESLOW: Taking control of fishing was a huge issue during the Brexit campaign. One study found 92 percent of fishermen intended to vote to leave the EU. Stephen Crabb represents Milford Haven in Parliament - a conservative. He campaigned against Brexit, but now he's got to make the divorce work.

STEPHEN CRABB: It's going to be a litmus test of whether Brexit is successful if British fishing communities perceive that it's lead to a boost for their industry.

CHESLOW: The fishing industry holds tremendous symbolism for this island nation, but it brings in less than one-half of a percent of Britain's GDP. Most of the catch is sold to other European countries. And even if Britain gets more control of its fishing waters, there are few large trawlers or crews to man them.

CRABB: Brexit on its own is not a silver bullet. It's not a magic bullet to achieve a renascence of the Welsh deep-sea fishing industry.

CHESLOW: At the port, Rhys says he's helping organize a fishermen's protest flotilla that will sail up London's Thames River next month. But for now, he takes the wooden wheel and steers the boat out to sea.


CHESLOW: The Winnicotts sail past the Belgian trawler, out of the harbor and out of sight. Daniella Cheslow, NPR News, Milford Haven.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.