Shoppers urged to support UK fishermen as export markets dry up

Shoppers should try UK-caught produce as fishermen struggle with the impact of the Covid-19, a seafood industry expert has said.

With the export markets to Europe and China ruined, restaurants and chippies closed, hospitality shut down and many supermarkets not staffing their fish counters, skippers have decided to keep their vessels tied up.

But some are still going out to fish, and more of what they catch is available online or being sold door-to-door.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said: “This is a good time for consumers to try different fish where they can get access to them.

“Some of the more exotic species are not going abroad or into the restaurant trade, so there’s no reason why prices should not be low.

Coronavirus
Fishing boats at North Shields Fish Quay (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“There’s Dover sole, crab, lobster, scallops that could be available.”

He said there had been rapid growth in fishermen starting up doorstep sales.

But he said: “I don’t think this will substitute the main supply chains, it won’t be anything of that magnitude.”

Seafish, which supports the British seafood industry, has provided online advice about selling directly to consumers.

Coronavirus – Mon Apr 6, 2020
Skippers have decided to keep their vessels tied up (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Director Hazel Curtis said: “We export around 80% of the fish and shellfish caught around the UK, so some fishing boat owners are adapting and finding ways to sell their catch directly to fishmongers or to the general public.

“Groups of fishermen around the UK are setting up websites so they can sell locally landed fish straight to local fishmongers or to households and we’re seeing an increase in the use of fish vans which makes it easier for people to buy seafood too.

“We’d love people to support our coastal communities and eat more of the delicious seafood we catch.”

The Scottish and Northern Ireland governments have announced packages of support for their shellfish boats and Mr Deas expected help will be announced for their English counterparts in the coming week.

Much of the high-quality shellfish caught in the UK is exported to France, Italy and China, all badly affected by the pandemic.

Coronavirus – Mon Apr 6, 2020
A closed fishmerchants in North Shields (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The huge changes in the market mean many skippers could not cover their costs if they went to sea, leaving many vessels tied up.

He said the centuries-old way crews were paid, by sharing the value of the catch, meant it was tricky to work out a fair scheme for the Government to support them, as it will with other self-employed people.

In the meantime, fishermen like Rex Harrison, who works from Filey, North Yorkshire, will stay ashore.

The 66-year-old, who has been fishing as long as he can remember, usually catches sea trout, crab and lobster, with the fish going to high-end London restaurants.

Coronavirus – Mon Apr 6, 2020
Fishing boats (Owen Humphreys/PA)

He said: “At the moment we are shut down.

“There are always jobs to do and at the moment we have been making new gear.

“These are usually the jobs we do in bad weather.

“At the moment we have no-one we can send our fish to.”

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