A year of stability in the UK, but for how long?

11 Nov 2015
Profitability of the UK fleet was on the rise for 2013 but there are further challenges ahead

Profitability of the UK fleet was on the rise for 2013 but there are further challenges ahead

The UK’s leading seafood authority, Seafish, has released a report on the state of the UK fishing fleet, but there are many challenges ahead, as Adrian Tatum finds out.

The UK fishing fleet’s operating profit increased by 34% to a value of £202 million in 2013 compared to the previous year, according to the latest report from UK industry organisation, Seafish.

But the positive news does come with a warning from the organisation that many vessel owners and operators are still struggling to make a profit and will do in the years to come, especially with more legislation on the way.

Stable industry
Seafish’s latest report may come as a surprise to some but it does suggest that the economic performance of sectors of the industry has remained stable, despite a rise in input costs such as fuel and the introduction of tighter management restrictions, as well as more challenging weather conditions.

According to the latest report, despite total fishing income falling 3% to £751m between 2012 and 2013, due to decreases in the first sale price of a number of different species, the continued profitability suggests the fleet has made adjustments to counter rising costs.

Steve Lawrence, economics project manager at Seafish told WF&A that the rise in profitability was largely due to the recent success of the UK pelagic sector. “The main reason for these figures in 2013 is largely driven by the increases in quotas for the pelagic sector and the sector’s ability to take advantage of that while, at the same time, becoming a more efficient fleet. That said, there is evidence that in other sectors hard work is going on to stabilise the industry and that has been achieved to a certain degree of success.”

He added, “Our research highlights the extraordinary work undertaken by the UK commercial fishing fleet. In the face of a challenging economic and environmental landscape, the vessel owners and skippers have reacted positively in order to maintain operating profit margins in 2013.”

Mixed attitudes
However, results from the 600 interviews conducted reveal that vessel owners and skippers have largely mixed attitudes towards the future. Many said that they were uncomfortable and hesitant to make predictions largely due to forthcoming regulation, such as the landing obligation. On the other hand, a group of vessel owners and skippers reported that they were planning to expand their business regardless of the challenges ahead.

“It has been a year of stability in 2013 but early indications show that 2014/15 could be different. One of the UK fishing fleet’s main challenges will be the forthcoming landing obligations and that will add more pressure to the sector,” added Mr Lawrence.

Meanwhile, the UK government has promised to help those fishermen struggling to survive. Fisheries Minister, George Eustice has told the UK sector that the new £43 million European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) will be made available to help the industry cope with the demersal discard ban.

Mr Eustice said, “If we want a profitable fishing industry and thriving coastal communities in the future it is vital that we fish sustainably today. That is why the reforms we have secured to the Common Fisheries Policy, which will put an end to the shameful practice of throwing perfectly good fish overboard, are so important. It is essential that we ban the practice of discarding fish, but we are also committed to introducing new flexibilities to help fishermen manage their quotas and will be giving more quota to the under 10 metre fleet.”

Flexibility
Changes announced in October mean that fishermen will have increased quotas agreed by the European Commission and will be able to bank, borrow and swap quotas to give them more flexibility over their businesses. Also, the help available is via EMFF funding, which can be used to purchase or develop new and innovative gear for more selective fishing and also to help fishermen develop new markets for fish that were previously discarded. There will also be increased quotas from the European Commission to take account of the fact that discarding should no longer be occurring, however the Government has said this will not lead to a net gain in the number of fish taken from the seas.

Many smaller community fishermen also believe changes could now be made to cod quotas in the UK after a recovery in UK waters. Fishermen in the small costal towns in Sussex, Yorkshire, Dorset and Scotland have all voiced their concerns over the demersal discard ban and what it means for their livelihoods.

Greenpeace has also claimed that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is violating European fishing law, set out in the Common Fisheries Policy, by not publicly publishing new criteria for how it distributes its fishing quota, and by giving more quota to less sustainable, industrial vessels.

Sarah North, Greenpeace head of oceans campaign, said it was “unlawful”, adding that the industry was “crumbling” because the UK was not prioritising small scale fishermen who were more environmentally-friendly and provided more jobs.

“It’s unlawful. They need to include criteria which incentivises social, environmental economic outcomes and Defra don’t think they need to change a thing right now.” She said there needed to be a “deliberate effort” to target quota to generate local outcome. “[Small-scale fishermen would] get more than this measly 5% [quota] that they’re getting [now]. They’d get a proper decent share and be able to make a livelihood.”

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