When the town’s voters go to the polls, the looming symbolic dock tower will soar over them, and so will the history of Grimsby’s fishing industry . . .
Desperation, Despair and Disgust. It is rare that a glimmer of hope is felt in this town. Its not that its people are cynical or pessimistic, quite the opposite, but as one resident bluntly points out: ‘how can you be hopeful, when there is nothing to be hopeful about’.
The sound of the trawlers, buyers, sellers, fishmongers and the sight of grand boats; the prosperous fishermen and a busy dock, are still not enough to fill the once bright port of Grimsby. An unbreakable link formed between the town and the sea. The feeling of honour, pride and bravery felt by the mariners out on the ships in the North Sea, was shared by the families and children on the streets of Grimsby. Their lives were invariably affected by the activities out at sea, as stories were shared from the boats to the streets. These tales became rooted in town folk law and with the tales came economic growth, jobs and a huge feeling of idealism and hope.
Today, the port is nothing like it once was. The 2,000 tonnes of fresh fish each year being handled in the docks and the regular cargo services (exporting/importing 500,000 vehicles per year) with Scandinavia and the Baltic states, do little justice for the heartbeat of Grimsby and its people.
Despite a recent fall in the number of people out of work in the town, unemployment is still above the national average. In fact, Grimsby has recently been named a ‘youth unemployment blackspot’ in a report by The Work Foundation, which found that 25 per cent of people aged between 16 and 24 in the town were out of work, the fourth highest rate in the country.
The people of Grimsby are united in the folk stories of their fishermen but also where the blame lies for the unemployment, poverty and the simple lack of money in the town. They blame it all on the demise of the UK fishing industry and with that, they blame the EU.
‘Do you know what you want to do after school? I ask Alex, an 18-year-old, preparing to leave. He explains how his family were all fishermen before saying: ‘The sea is in my family’s heart, and I’m proud of that … but at the moment I may have to just go for the cheaper, rubbish jobs’.
‘I’ve got no job ’cause the European Union destroyed all the work I have’, spoke an unemployed resident of the town’.
But what did the EU do to Grimsby’s Fishing Industry?
The EU under the Common Fisheries Policy shrunk the area where UK fishermen can catch fish. Each year officials go to Brussels to negotiate with the EU what British fishermen can bring ashore. There is a widespread feeling in the fishing industry that the UK gets a tougher deal than most. The idea of the policy was to allow stocks of fish to recover and help save some depleted species. However, it has strangled places like Grimsby with many feeling that Brussels’ red tape and control over the UK’s waters is immoral and plainly wrong.
‘The UK should control its own waters — it’s simple; not some official [deciding] in Brussels’, one angry fishermen tells me.
It’s not all gloom and doom for the EU in Grimsby . . .
‘The EU has given me the feeling that there are jobs here in Grimsby, and they are there’ (as a voter points out to sea towards the offshore wind farms).
One thing the EU can be accredited for is helping the growth of the offshore wind farms in the waters of the River Humber bordering Grimsby, leading to local jobs and an insurgence of much needed cash into the town. If you ask anybody in the town they will say one of the most notable investments have been ‘all the wind farms popping up out at sea’. Part of a recent project to build the world’s biggest wind farm by the German company Siemens, will mean 2,000 jobs during construction and up to 300 additional ones, both directly and indirectly, when it will be running. The farm will span an area equivalent to 58,000 football pitches, across the East Yorkshire coast from Hull to Grimsby.
Siemens recently said the UK was better off staying in the EU — something that has worried the offshore wind farm workers here, fearing that trade and investment from Siemens might be cut or stopped altogether.
The hearts of the people of Grimsby are filled with the pride and bravery earned by years spent on the unforgiving North Sea. This bravery does not play into the hands of the Remain side’s ‘project fear’, and neither does the feeling of resentment against the EU and the impact it has had on the town’s fishing industry. Despite this, a feeling of optimism does exist because of the growth of offshore wind farms and the jobs and training opportunities (especially for the young) these bring.
The question for the country on the 23rd of June is whether to remain or leave the European Union. The question for the people of Grimsby is whether they believe that the EU is offering enough new opportunities through renewable energy, or that it has destroyed too much of the town already, leaving its inhabitants with very little.
The European Union killed Grimsby’s fishing industry. And it may be too late for it to appease the huge feeling of Euroscepticism and support for the Leave vote.