Impact of pandemic on Northumberland's fishing industry revealed

Northumberland’s fishing industry is ‘in a recovery phase’, having ‘seemingly weathered this particular storm, as it has so many before it’, fisheries chiefs have said.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 29th July 2020, 6:00 am

But they added ‘the opening and stability of the hospitality and tourist trades here and abroad will be vital’ for its recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIFCA), which works to maintain healthy seas and a viable industry in its patch from the River Tyne to the Scottish Border and six nautical miles out to sea, held its first remote quarterly meeting on Monday, July 27.

The report from the authority’s chief officer, Mark Southerton, said that as of the start of the month, ‘the industry is in a recovery phase with the main issues focused on markets, supply and demand, depressed prices for some shellfish species as well as lack of pot bait or increased prices for pot bait’.

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Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIFCA) has been discussing the impacts of the pandemic on the industry

He highlighted some national figures from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), which compare April – the first full month of the Covid-19 lockdown – with the same month last year.

UK vessels’ landed quantity was down by 35% year on year, with the value down more steeply at 54%.

Smaller-length vessels were hit hardest, with the value from the under-10-metre and 10-to-12-metre fleets falling by 65% and 69% respectively, while shellfish saw the greatest decrease in value by species group – 68%, based on a quantity reduction of 46%.

Mr Southerton noted that these figures ‘show the impacts the pandemic has had on the industry, especially the shellfish sector and the smaller vessels, which make up the majority of the Northumberland fishing fleet’.

Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIFCA) has been discussing the impacts of the pandemic on the industry

In a further report, NIFCA’s lead enforcement officer, Nick Weir, stated: ‘With the closure of markets across the continent and the limited nature of our fishery, the outlook for our stakeholders was bleak at the beginning of the quarter, however, while the situation has been far from ideal and some businesses have suffered significant financial shortfalls, the industry has seemingly weathered this particular storm as it has so many before it.

‘More difficult times were seen by crew members of the local vessels, who, with no share of catch to take, were forced to seek state benefits during April until the funding for the self-employed became available.

‘As of the end of June, most vessels are now back fishing. With further reductions in the UK’s lockdown expected over the coming months, the opening and stability of the hospitality and tourist trades here and abroad will be vital for the recovery of the industry.’

Mr Weir’s report added: ‘Many vessels during the period diversified their trade by selling to the general public, RBS-registered restaurants and wet fish shops offering home delivery services and quayside sales.

‘The potting vessels that did this increasingly targeted nephrops, which were more commercially viable, along with dressed crab.

‘Some lucrative relationships seem to have been made and this may see a long-term change to the industry with wholesalers being bypassed.’

Both officers mentioned that there had been praise from the industry for the MMO’s Fisheries Response Fund, which in its first round alone paid out more than £5.5million in England.

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