Joint Action Group on Coronavirus Formed

19th March 2020 in Coronavirus

A joint fishing sector/government action group has been formed to work on urgent measures to support the fishing industry through the coronavirus emergency. The virus has created a public health emergency, as well a profound economic crisis. The most immediate effect is being felt in a liquidity crisis in fishing businesses, where demand has reduced, and in some cases dried completely. The picture is a mixed one, with shellfish bearing the brunt of the crisis in its early stages.

Joint Action Group on Coronavirus Formed

Following a telephone conference, it has been agreed to work on a support package in four key areas:

1. The development of alternative markets and alternative routes to market. Government has a role in facilitation the shift to meet new demand in the domestic market

2. Direct and indirect financial support. The immediate task is to understand the content of the Chancellor’s £350 billion support package, to understand to what extent this will be relevant and of use to the fishing sector; and to identify where additional support will be required

3. Regulatory changes: the group is to work on reducing regulatory burdens where these impede an adequate response to the crisis

4. Development of an adaptive joint industry/government approach to the different aspects of the crisis as they evolve

A wide range of stakeholders from across the country and across supply chain brought their different concerns and insights into the discussion. A smaller, more focused group will be required to work up proposals.

Overview of Evolving Impacts

⦁ A pandemic with widespread implications for human health and with severe and widespread economic consequences

⦁ Businesses in the fishing, fish marketing and fish processing sectors face potentially existential challenges, related to short term liquidity

⦁ Crew incomes will be directly and immediately affected

⦁ The virus has impacted sequentially, with the market for crab being the first affected, but with rolling consequences for other species and sectors as social distancing advice has taken effect.

⦁ Although temporary in nature, the scale of the shock in the fishing sector is likely to be very severe

⦁ Closure of schools will have workforce consequences throughout the supply chain

Responsibilities

⦁ Businesses and representative organisations have a responsibility to take what steps are available to mitigate the economic and social consequences of the contagion

⦁ It is government’s responsibility, however, to provide temporary support, where the market or sector initiatives are inadequate to the scale of the problems generated by the virus; or where generic government support is inadequate

⦁ Government and sector are agreed on a partnership approach. We are in an evolving situation, with assessments of the scale of the numbers infected, the UK government’s response and the response of other countries varying frequently as more information becomes available

Challenges by Market Segment

Catching fish and shellfish is primary production, which will be affected directly by the coronavirus, as crews become infected, or self-isolate in line with government advice.

Fishing is also indirectly, but powerfully affected by downstream impacts from dramatic falls in demand in different parts of the market.

Restaurant and Hospitality Trade

⦁ Zero or close to zero demand, as restaurants and the hospitality industry more widely are forced to close as the public respond to of social distancing advice

Export Trade

⦁ Difficulties in export markets caused by the virus or measures/advice to contain the virus have consequential impacts downstream as intermediary firms cease buying fish and shellfish for which there is no market demand or face transport/regulatory obstacles.

Supermarket Trade

⦁ Closure of fish counters

⦁ Increased demand for tinned and frozen fish

Home Consumption

⦁ Home potential to expand but limited by difficulties in accessing fish and shellfish, following supermarkets decision to close fish counters after driving traditional fishmongers out of business. Doorstep deliveries of fresh fish by van has great potential in the current circumstances and is being trialled in Cornwall and other locations

Response

The scale of the coronavirus crisis has been described by government as requiring a regulatory response akin to putting the economy on a war footing. In the government’s phrase “doing what it takes” will shape the scale and form of support to businesses and workforces throughout this crisis.

The challenge is to build a package of support that is relevant for to fishing sector. Overall, there is a determination, where it is an option, to keep boats at sea, keep crews intact, keep supply chains supplied, keep continuity of food security. In cases where demand has fallen away completely, support will need to take the form of maintaining the potential to start again when the health crisis diminishes. A two-pronged approach will probably be required:

⦁ Support to keep fleets working and supply chains supplied

⦁ A form of tie-up aid where markets have collapsed completely

This is the task facing the fishing sector and government as we try to build a response adequate to the scale and evolution of the crisis