After three months of storms and high winds, a slump in demand has left most of the UK’s fleet tied up and facing ruin
The UK fishing sector has been badly hit by the coronavirus crisis, with the collapse of export markets and the shutdown of the hospitality industry leading to most boats being tied up.
British fishermen export about 70% of their catch, mainly to continental Europe and Asia. The sharp fall in demand has been a “severe shock”, said Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations.
“Like everyone, our members have been stunned by the magnitude of this crisis. It’s a very fluid and dynamic situation, and we’re hoping it’s temporary,” he said.
Meanwhile, there are concerns that imports of fish, which amount to 70-80% of the seafood consumed in the UK, could be hampered by pressure on supply chains, including sickness and self-isolation among key workers.
Last week, shipping representatives warned ministers that without government support, freight ships will be laid up, leading to a shortage of food and other goods. Frozen fish imports usually arrive in the UK on container ships.
The first sign of the crisis in the UK fishing sector was a sudden slump in demand from Asia for shellfish. Deas said: “In recent years, there has been quite a dependence on the Chinese market for sales of crab, so that’s where it was felt first as exports dried up.
“More recently, there has been the closure of the restaurant and hospitality trade, which has had a big impact on the shellfish trade. It has pretty well collapsed. White fish has been a bit more mixed, but there has certainly been a reduction in demand. The closure of some supermarket fish counters has not been helpful.”
Fish markets in the north-east of England, where catches are sold on to suppliers to restaurants, supermarkets and fishmongers, have closed and Peterhead – the largest market in Europe – has seen a significant fall in trade. Markets in the south-west of England are open but reporting a slump in prices . . . .
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