Brexit roadtrip - Chris Bean (Fisherman, Cornwall)

IMG_20190227_143454.jpg

Chris Bean is a small scale, traditional fisherman and fishmonger in Cornwall. Until the late ‘90s, Chris brought his fish to auction like most other fishermen. Then, by a chance meeting with a restaurant owner, he and his son managed to start selling directly to restaurants and consumers, making them less dependant on export prices. By now, they buy from about 12 other small vessels (under 10 meters), selling over thirty different species of fish, usually only one or two days after it’s been caught. I’m meeting Chris on the Lemon Street Market in Truro, where they have a stall each Wednesday and Saturday.

How would you say the Brexit issue has affected your business?

“Well, it hasn’t really so far. It’s such a mess.. The indecision, politicians jumping from one party to another. The general public has just lost interest, shrugged their shoulders and got on with life.”

“I’ve spoken to a lot of fishermen, nearly all of them voted to leave, the idea that there wouldn’t be any French trawlers or Dutch beamers this side of the median [line between France and Britain]. But if you ask the average Fisherman who voted to leave: ‘Did you consider the Northern Ireland issue?’ ‘Northern Ireland, what’s that? What’s that got to do with it?’ So many of the people who voted, fishermen included, didn’t know all the parameters going in. They only thought that leave would be a good idea because they don’t like the bills that are allegedly being paid to Europe. But in Cornwall, we’re recipient of God knows how much money through the Common Agricultural Policy. So why people would want to leave, I don’t know..”.

Do you feel people would vote differently if a second referendum would be held?

“I think if it would be put on the table, people would be more aware of all the issues involved in leaving the EU, and we’d probably have a 60-40 outcome for remain. I think the hard leavers would be very upset. But I think that most leave-voters would say: ‘From what I’ve heard now I think we’re better of within the EU.”

“Do you know that painting by Edward Munch, The Scream? I had one customer come by on the Saturday after the referendum. I asked her would she thought about the result. ‘What have we done?’, she replied, giving me an exact impression of that painting. ‘I voted to leave, because I’d never thought we’d win..’ So many people used this as a protest vote, ‘Let’s give Cameron a shock’. So I probably would be for a second referendum because it would not be a knee jerk reaction like the first one.”

How would a hard brexit affect your business and sector?

Well, our home market only absorbs about 20% of the catch, the rest goes abroad. So what would happen if tariffs would go up and the entire catch would end up on the domestic market? Prices would collapse. Fisherman are selling their sole for 19 pound per kilo, we’re getting 10,50 here and it costs about 12 pound per kilo to catch them with diesel and other costs. They’d be out of business.”

“I think it will a very soft Brexit if we have one. There will be an exchanges of dues on tariffs, meaning there will be nearly zero tariffs for those who are already trading. And there will be a concession for all the other European boats that are fishing here now. They will have to have a license to fish here, but it will be something like one euro, something silly and totally affordable. So it won’t affect anything. And the pricing structure will stay the same. That’s what I think will happen. When we crack of from Europe, we’ll have a transition period and these things will be anticipated. At least I hope so, we can’t do without Europe.”

“So I don’t think we’ll have a hard Brexit. I think the situation a year from now will be very similar to what we have today.”

Maarten Kuiper