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Brixham’s fishermen hope Brexit will tip the scales for a shrinking industry | Fishing industry

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Before dawn, the fish market in Brixham stirs into life as the shining silver catch from local fishing boats is unloaded, sorted, graded and auctioned off to food suppliers and restaurants.

This coastal town in south Devon can trace its fishing history back as far as the 14th century and today, thanks to Brexit, is at the centre of a modern political drama.

The UK fisheries industry is one of the reasons why London and Brussels are stumbling over a trade agreement, although business in Brixham is unaffected so far. Its fish market has just enjoyed a run of million-pound weeks, where sales in the online auction of cuttlefish, scallops and more than 40 types of fish have regularly reached seven figures.

Standing in one of two chilly sale halls where seafood is inspected and sold, Kevin Dale of Brixham Trawler Agents, which manages the market says: “The other day we had 30,000 dover sole.”

Brixham has become England’s largest market by value of fish sold, and the EU is its largest customer. Over 70% of Brixham’s catch is exported to France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain.

However, EU boats use British fishing waters too and they want to continue doing so after 31 December. This sticking point is one of the reasons for Boris Johnson’s claim last Friday that the country would have to prepare for a no-deal scenario if Brussels did not change its general negotiating stance.

Crate of ocean fish in the sale hall at Brixham fish market
The sale hall at Brixham fish market.

The economic size of the UK fishing industry is dwarfed by its symbolic importance. According to official data, the seafood sector, which includes fishing, aquaculture and processing, represents 0.1% of the UK economy, a contribution of £1.4bn in 2018. But for Brixham and other coastal communities around the UK it is vital.

“Brixham is a special place,” says Josh Perkes, owner of Brixham Seafish, who is overseeing a team of rubber-booted workers preparing boxes of hake and gurnards bought at that morning’s market and destined for city restaurants. Perkes is the sixth generation of his family to make a living from the bountiful waters off Brixham, and says fishing is “everything” to the town. “There are two trades here: fishing and tourism.”

For this coastal community – and a scattering of others around UK shores, from Peterhead on Scotland’s north-east coast to Newlyn on Cornwall’s southern tip – fishing is a cornerstone.

The industry is undeniably shrinking, however. It employed around 8,000 people in June 2020, not counting the self-employed, which is less than half the number recorded in June 1978, five years after Britain joined the EU.

And many in the fishing industry blame EU membership for this decline, believing Britain got a bad deal when it entered the bloc in the 1970s. Fishing quotas, the common fisheries policy (CFP) and access to British waters for foreign boats have long been contentious.

Securing more control of the fish in British and shared waters was a key promise of the 2016 Brexit campaign. EU-based fleets catch up to eight times as many fish in UK waters as British fishermen do in EU waters, according to UK government data.

Crabs being unloaded at Brixham harbour.
Crabs being unloaded at Brixham harbour.

Once Britain no longer has to follow EU rules, after 31 December, fishermen want Britain to become an “independent coastal state”. This would replicate the status of Norway, and would mean the UK could control its own waters, and hold annual talks on access to UK and EU waters to ensure stocks are protected and prevent overfishing.

However, the sheer quantity of fish in UK waters has made this very unpopular with certain EU member states, which have a lot to lose. These include France, Belgium and Denmark, whose boats have for centuries fished in the same waters as UK boats. So the Brexit talks are being closely watched in Brixham, even by those who no longer make a living from the sea.

“I was hoping we’d walk away today,” says retired fisherman Andy Ricks. “If Boris Johnson gives fishing away, I’ll never vote for him again”.

Ricks says quotas – a thicket of regulations divvying up catches by size, location and type of fish – were the reason he had to quit fishing and sell his boat in the mid-1990s. He hopes Britain’s departure from the EU, with a trade deal or without, will “benefit the next generation”. “If the money was good, more young people would want to get into it,” he says.

Others are more circumspect about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the wider economy.

“Not securing a deal will add yet more hardship to vitally important sectors, not least manufacturing and construction,” says Darren Jones MP, the Labour chair of parliament’s business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) committee. “If ministers really are committed to protecting jobs in the UK, they need to get a deal over the line.”

Although many in Brixham are firmly in favour of Brexit, the uncertainty is a concern for the fish market’s operators.

“It’s frightening for us,” says Dale at Brixham Trawler Agents, which is busy trying to work out how seafood sales to the continent will continue after Brexit. “We’ve had information but it’s not clear. We don’t know what’s needed and it’s just a few months away.”

But many in the fishing industry see Britain’s departure from the EU as a chance for a fresh start.

“Our aspiration is, as an independent coastal state, to be put on track to regenerate at least some coastal communities, and the fundamental building block is fishing opportunities,” says Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO).

But he warns that additional fishing quotas within sovereign waters would not necessarily lead to an expansion of the UK fishing industry.

“We should see what our fishing opportunities are, if there is scope to relax the licensing laws, and build new boats. We should do it very cautiously.”

Across Brixham harbour, on King’s Quay, stands a bronze sculpture called Man and Boy, portraying two lifesize figures standing at a ship’s wheel. If future generations in Brixham are to maintain the town’s fishing tradition, Brexit needs to fulfil its promise.


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Covid-19 likely to become as ‘endemic’ as flu

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Health workers are dressing with protective suits and face maks. The collection of swab samples by medical staff in the drive-in testing center of San Filippo Neri hospital in Roma, Italy on October 19, 2020.

NurPhoto | NurPhoto | Getty Images

LONDON — Covid-19 is likely to become as “endemic” as the annual flu virus, according to the U.K.’s chief scientific advisor.

“We can’t be certain, but I think it’s unlikely we will end up with a truly sterilizing vaccine, (that is) something that completely stops infection, and it’s likely this disease will circulate and be endemic, that’s my best assessment,” Patrick Vallance told the National Security Strategy Committee in London on Monday.

“Clearly as management becomes better, as you get vaccination which would decrease the chance of infection and the severity of disease … this then starts to look more like annual flu than anything else and that may be the direction we end up going,” he said.

He cautioned that a vaccine against the new coronavirus — and there are a handful in Phase 3 clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization — is not likely to eradicate the virus anyway.

“The notion of eliminating Covid from anywhere is not right, because it will come back,” he said, noting there had only been one human disease “truly eradicated” thanks to a highly effective vaccine and that was smallpox.

Biotech companies and academic bodies around the world have joined forces to try to create a vaccine against the coronavirus at breakneck speed given its ferocity. On Monday, the grim milestone of 40 million confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide was reached, and the virus has caused 1.1 million deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Historically, creating a vaccine from scratch had taken 10 years on average, Vallance said, and it had never taken under five years.

“We’re now in the extraordinary situation where there are at least eight vaccines which are in quite large clinical studies around the world … We will know over the next few months whether we have any vaccines that really do protect and how long they protect for,” he said.

He added there were a number of vaccines that created an immune response and antibody response, but only the Phase 3 clinical trials would prove whether they “actually stop people getting infected.” The safety profile of such vaccines would also become clearer and from then on, a “sensible vaccination strategy” could be looked at, Vallance said.

Vallance concluded he didn’t believe there would be any vaccine available for widespread use in the community until at least spring 2021.


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WHO holds briefing on coronavirus after cases hit 40 million

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[The stream is slated to start at 11 a.m. ET. Please refresh the page if you do not see a player above at that time.]

The World Health Organization is holding a briefing Monday on the coronavirus pandemic after the number of reported cases worldwide hit 40 million.

The grim milestone comes as various parts of Europe and the U.S. struggle to deal with an alarming surge in infections. On Friday, the WHO said that Europe’s coronavirus outbreak is “concerning” as the number of available intensive care beds continues to dwindle and near capacity in some regions.

“We know of a number of cities across Europe where ICU capacity will be reached in the coming weeks,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead. “That is concerning as we approach the flu season.”

Read CNBC’s live updates to see the latest news on the Covid -19 outbreak.

–CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt contributed to this report.


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What are they and do they work?

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A man wears a face mask as he walks past a Wales souvenir store on October 19, 2020 in Cardiff, Wales. Wales will go into a national lockdown from Friday until November 9.

Matthew Horwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The term “circuit breaker” has become common parlance in the U.K. in recent weeks, as the country searches for a way to curb the second wave of the coronavirus in a short, sharp way.

The term was coined by scientific advisors to the British government who have recommended a two or three-week “mini lockdown. ” This time-limited set of strict restrictions would be designed to act as a “circuit breaker” to the infection rate, as the name implies.

Northern Ireland was the first part of the U.K. to announce that a “circuit breaker” lockdown would start on Oct. 16 and last for two weeks. Meanwhile on Monday, Wales announced a similar lockdown that will come into effect on Friday and last until Nov. 9.

Speaking at a press conference, Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said the mini lockdown, what he called a “firebreak,” would be “a short, sharp, shock to turn back the clock, slow down the virus and buy us more time.”

Scotland has already ramped up restrictions, and is reported to be considering a circuit breaker, whereas the U.K. government has still not decided whether to impose a mini lockdown on England to coincide with the half-term school holiday next week.

What are circuit breakers?

Essentially, circuit breakers are lockdowns but for a limited amount of time. They are designed to break the chain of infection, and bring the infection rate down. It’s hoped that circuit breakers will help to reduce pressure on health services as hospitalizations due to Covid-19 rise.

This is crucial for the U.K., which has the third-highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe, with its tally now standing at just over 744,000 cases with 43,816 fatalities, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. It is currently battling a dramatic second wave of infections, like the rest of Europe, particularly in northern England.

On Monday, 18,804 new daily infections were reported, up from 16,982 on Sunday. The seven-day average number of cases on Oct. 16 was 17,649, according to government data, compared to 14,588 a week before.

Scientists advising the government seem to favor circuit breakers, as does the opposition Labour Party, with both encouraging the government to implement a mini-lockdown.

Papers released last week showed that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) — a group of leading scientists that provides scientific advice to the U.K. government at times of crisis — had advised the government to go further with the restrictive measures it had implemented (such as restricting social gatherings to six people and forcing bars and restaurants to close at 10pm).

They first suggested a “circuit breaker,” or mini lockdown, a month ago and recommended banning households from mixing indoors and the closure of all bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms and hairdressers — essentially, a short-term repeat of the full lockdown seen earlier in the year.

Do they work?

Proponents of circuit breakers argue that although they won’t stop a virus in its tracks, they can suppress the spread of infections and buy governments and healthcare systems time to act. But while public health experts might advocate for them, business owners dread a return to lockdown.

Still, the consensus among experts is that circuit breakers can play a part in curbing an epidemic.

Speaking during a televised debate on Sunday on the merits of a short-term lockdown, Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said that “we do need stronger restrictions if we want the number of infections to go down.”

Matt Morgan, an intensive care unit consultant at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, has warned that the U.K. health care system could be “on its knees” without action. He told CNBC that while he’s not an epidemiologist and can’t comment on the effectiveness of a circuit breaker, action was needed to take the pressure off hospitals.

“What I do know is that the NHS struggles every winter so unless steps are taken to lessen the impact of Covid on all aspects of healthcare, it may become unmanageable,” he said.

However, circuit breakers are not entirely straightforward. Within the same discussion, Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, added that due to the lag effect between infection and hospitalization of people with Covid-19, the effectiveness of a short lockdown would remain to be seen.

“We would have to wait and see for indications that case numbers are coming down. This is why the testing and tracing system and surveillance is really important — to have a line of sight of how many people actually have the virus. If you wait to rely on hospitalizations and on deaths then it’s too late … they are lag indicators and we need lead indicators,” she said.

Nonetheless, she said a mini lockdown was now inevitable in England. “It’s like a fire that’s raging, you can’t just turn your back on it and think it’ll go away.”

A YouGov survey for Sky News published Monday showed that 67% of 1,781 people surveyed between October 15 and 16 back a circuit breaker lockdown.


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