Fuel costs cast cloud over fishermen

PROTESTS about the impact of rising fuel prices on the fishing industry have been backed in Essex as fishermen voiced their fears for the future.

PROTESTS about the impact of rising fuel prices on the fishing industry have been backed in Essex as fishermen voiced their fears for the future.

Dozens of campaigners gathered outside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in London yesterday to urge ministers to produce an aid package to tackle spiralling fuel costs.

The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation said the impact on fishing vessels had gone “beyond critical” and boats could not operate viably at current fuel price levels.

The message was echoed by Terry Haggis, who fishes from Walton, who said: “I tanked my boat up with diesel today and although I am on a smaller scale to some of the boats, even for ourselves the diesel costs are spiralling all the time. It affects everybody.”


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Mr Haggis said fishermen could not claw back the increase in fuel costs by charging more for their catch as the prices were governed by supply and demand.

Strict quotas which dictate how much of certain fish can be caught also reduced the fishermen's ability to make up the shortfall in money, said Mr Haggis.

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“Fish prices have not risen for years in the way that the cost of living has,” said Mr Haggis.

“It does take the cream off the day when you are spending vast amounts on diesel - when a trawler fills up with diesel they are looking at £1,000 for three or fours days fishing.

“I use nets so I don't use as much fuel but it is still about £200 a week and I also have to fill my car up and my crew has got to be paid. There are so many costs before you have even gone out to sea.”

Mr Haggis, 51, a fisherman for 36 years, said he was “lucky” as he sold his catch at Walton seafront and also out of his shop in the town.

“If I sent my fish to auction all the time I would not make a living,” he said.

Former fisherman John Jowers, who still owns two boats - one of which works full-time from Mersea - said the impact of fuel price increases was “disastrous”.

“If you could raise the amount of catch to compensate for the fuel prices that might go some way to help but when you are on a fixed quota you can't do that,” said Mr Jowers, who is also an Essex county councillor.

“There has been no attempt to raise quotas or tackle the price of fuel. I understand France has given (fishermen) an initial £250 million in support and a further £150 million since but what do we get? Nothing, except even more draconian legislation.”

Yesterday's protest, when dozens of campaigners from Scotland, the North East, Cornwall, and Northern Ireland gathered outside Defra, was timed to coincide with a meeting between fishing industry leaders and UK Fisheries Minister Jonathan Shaw and Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead to discuss the issue.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations said: “The fishing industry finds itself in a double bind: we cannot simply pass on our costs because we sell our fish through the auction system, creating a terrible problem in the industry.

“Boats are going out to sea and fish for five days in terrible conditions and we're not getting enough to even pay our crews.”

A Defra spokesman said: “We do not underestimate the difficulties many fishermen face.

“UK Fisheries Minister Jonathan Shaw is working with fishermen to find solutions.

“What is needed is a long-term approach, not just short-term assistance, that helps the fishing industry adapt to rising fuel prices.

“Jonathan Shaw is committed to working with the industry to reach decisions on issues like this together, which is why he met fishermen's leaders from across the UK today.”

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