Covid-Safe Fishing: Adapting to the New Conditions

17th May 2020 in Coronavirus

Some parts of the UK fleet have been able to fish on through the coronavirus emergency, bringing food to tables during a time when the crisis was at its worst. Other vessels have seen their markets disappear completely and have had no option but to tie up. Whatever their current situation, vessels going back to sea or continuing to fish, will face a new set of challenges relating to how they might operate in a world in which a second surge in the pandemic is an ongoing threat.

Covid-Safe Fishing: Adapting to the New Conditions
Photo courtesy of Nina Constable Media

In terms of managing risk, fishing has some advantages – in particular, low levels of contact with the public. In some respects, fishing vessels can be considered as sealed workplaces. But fishing also presents some challenges – physical distancing in the confined spaces on fishing vessels being uppermost.

The wide variety of sizes, shapes and operations of fishing vessels do not lend themselves to one-size-fits-all guidance. The present government guidance contains useful practical suggestions and broad principles but is set at a very general level. Boats and ships aren’t mentioned specifically and outdoor working and working from vehicles provide the closest parallels.

At the same time, we know that parts of the industry have developed their own guidance on how to operate safely, within the context of continuing risk from the Covid virus and have ideas about how this guidance could be further developed to make it relevant and practical. Fishermen know their vessels and operations better than anyone so capturing and sharing that knowledge is an urgent priority. For that reason, the NFFO has instigated a telephone and online survey to quickly collect ideas from our members on good practice already in place or being developed. This will then be shared across the industry and will be used to inform government guidance through a Defra working group that has been established for that purpose.

The key to operating safely will be the risk assessment that each skipper/owner must undertake to ensure that his vessel is operating safely. Risk assessments are already well established but taking Covid-related risks into account is the new factor. What works for one vessel, won’t necessarily be the answer in another but the aim is to provide each skipper/owner with the options to find his own course.

Our hope is that by asking fishermen for their views we, collectively, will be able to produce a useful check-list that will help to inform each vessel operator what works in terms of providing Covid security for his vessel.

The telephone survey will of necessity be quick and will depend on sampling each vessel category. If you have any novel ideas on how a vessel can operate Covid safely please share that knowledge by emailing