Fishing through COVID-19 pandemic as export markets dry up
23 Mar 2020 --- In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the export market for the types of fish caught by British fishers is drying up. Sustainable Fish Campaign Coordinator Ruth Westcott, from Sustain, is highlighting the importance of securing the livelihoods of fishermen, as they struggle to sell their catch to businesses and restaurants in Europe.
Sustainable Fish City, is a campaign which encourages businesses to adopt a fully sustainable fish policy, helping transform the way the world’s oceans are fished. The campaign began in London, inspired by the Food Vision of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and is now being adopted by cities across the country.
“Most of the individual fishers in the UK catch fresh fish and shellfish to sell to restaurants in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, or the UK. Unfortunately the market for their fish is pretty much disappearing overnight,” Westcott explains. However, those catching fish to be frozen should fare better – lots of people still want to eat fish and any that ends up in supermarkets should still have a secure market. But those catching fresh fish for the restaurant and pub market will very likely struggle, she notes.
These fleets are nearly all small businesses, or individual sole traders or self-employed people, affirms Westcott. “So far the British government has not offered to secure the incomes of sole traders or self employed people. Fishers are incredibly important to the economy of coastal communities since the fleet supports incomes in markets and auction rooms, transport and processing,” she says.
“We are trying to understand how our Sustainable Fish Cities campaign and the caterers and outlets we work with can help, and hope to update further when we know more. But in the meantime, we can help to support our small-scale fishing fleets through this unprecedented economic crisis,” she comments.
Westcott maintains that as an industry, there is an opportunity to help local producers through this crisis by buying UK-landed fish. Suppliers will be able to advise which species they have available – this could be very reasonably priced crab, langoustines, lobster, hake, other shellfish, mackerel, herring, sardines, flatfish like sole, maybe some seabass and perhaps squid, she adds.
Meanwhile, the UK Government has published guidance for businesses, employers and employees and a package of measures to provide support for public services and individuals, including:
A statutory sick pay relief package for Small Medium Enterprises;
Business Rate Relief for small businesses;
Grant funding of £3,000 (US$3,477) for Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) and Rural Rates Relief companies;
Loans for businesses who may need to respond to cash-flow pressures;
Westcott also believes it is absolutely paramount that the government go further to support UK fishing fleets. In order to do so, she highlights they must:
Guarantee an income for employees, sole traders and self-employed people, which would include fishers and associated industries. If fishers are losing their livelihoods, they need to be supported financially.
Local, regional and national governments must do what they can to support fishing businesses by buying UK-landed fish for the public sector (there are already standards in place to ensure that only sustainable fish is bought in the public sector, so that should continue).
Support anyone on a low income with money to buy what they need, and Sustain is calling for the UK Government to release funds to those most in need.
Edited by Elizabeth Green
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