National Body Calling For Government Support As Nation's Fishermen Take A Battering

13th February 2014 in NFFO

Estimates Predict 4,000 Fishermen Affected by Storms, With Losses Running into Millions

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), which represents fishermen across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is calling for an urgent meeting with the government to address storm damage as UK fishermen are being prevented from earning a living due to the bad weather and poor infrastructure. Fishermen along the south west coast of England and in Wales have been hit hardest by the unprecedented stormy weather conditions and could face up to two months of no fishing without any compensation for loss of earnings.

The government announced yesterday a £5,000 grant for those business affected by the storms and floods and extra help from banks via 'payment holidays' and loans. According to the NFFO it is essential that fishermen are factored into this support.

Tony Delahunty, a fisherman from Selsey and the NFFO’s Chairman-elect, believes it is the most sustained and ferocious weather he’s seen in his 40 years in the industry: “In all my time as a fishermen, never has the weather been so violent and so extreme. We have had bad weather, but this situation is unprecedented and is causing huge disruption to the industry.”

On top of keeping fishermen from making a living, the combination of high tides and extreme gales has hammered infrastructures, including vessels, harbours, sea defences, shingle beaches and static fishing gear. There are also real concerns for the stocks as crabs, lobsters and whelks are being found washed up on the beach.

Barrie Deas, Chief Executive of the NFFO, said: “The government has a responsibility to maintain the infrastructures under emergency conditions to allow fish to be caught, landed and sold. We need to sit down as a matter of urgency and work out what funding is available and how it can be best channelled to put our industry back on an even keel. These are very exceptional circumstances and I want to explore with Defra and the government agencies what support can be provided.

Estimates suggest 2,000 boats and around 4,000 fishermen are being affected by the weather and losses could run into the millions. Looting is now also emerging as a problem, after the Maritime and Coastguard Agency reported items being taken from a vessel wrecked against rocks near Porthcothan in Cornwall.

“After a poor start last year, fishermen are taking another battering and the money has to be found to replace damaged equipment,” continued Mr Delahunty. “It is a desperately worrying time. Everybody has families and mortgages to think about and it could be many months until the industry can recover.”

Even larger trawlers, usually able to go out in bad weather and relied upon to provide continuity of supply to the UK fish market, have only been able to snatch short periods at sea before being forced to return to shore. Now, because of short supply, some whole prices of fish have nearly doubled in just six weeks. There is concern some fishermen will be tempted to take more risks and go out in weather in which they normally wouldn’t.

Mr Delahunty added: “All of this amounts to a serious setback for the industry at a time when the boats have enough to contend with, adapting to new marine protected areas, quota reductions and the imminent arrival of a discard ban. Plus, with some quota species being seasonal, meaning they’re only allowed to be caught at certain times of the year, it is forcing fishermen to take greater risks, despite already working in one of the most dangerous professions in the UK.”

Across the Irish Sea, fishermen are also struggling to get out in their boats and the concern is that there could be a repeat of last winter when persistent gales and unseasonably bad weather prevented fishermen from going to sea. It was so prolonged that fishermen were eventually granted hardship funds from the Northern Ireland Executive.

While it is in the fishermen’s favour that a precedent has already been set in terms of accessing financial support, the Northern Irish fishing industry is conscious of not becoming dependent upon subsidies. However, these are exceptional circumstances arising from an unprecedented weather pattern justifying urgent government intervention.

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