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Still fishing: Douglas Joy with his under 10-metre boat Tia Lily.

£10m fund to help fishermen hard hit by coronavirus

A £10m fund set up by the government to help fisheries has been welcomed by Paul Joy of the Hastings Fisheries Protection Society, but is unlikely to benefit all local fishermen. Report by Nick Terdre, photos by Chandra Masoliver.

Defra – the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – has set up a £10m support scheme for fishing and aquaculture businesses in England which should  benefit the local fishing community. This has been hard hit by the lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Demand for the catch has slumped, whether from hospitality outlets at home or buyers abroad, and prices are down on the floor, Paul Joy, chair of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society, told HOT. Skate which would normally command £2.10 a kilo is fetching 35p, while across the Channel buyers in France are offering €0.80 a kilo for cuttlefish instead of the usual €3 plus.

Paul Joy.

As a result fishing has been greatly reduced. “Some boats are still active, trying to get rid of the fish where they can,” Joy said. “A lot are not fishing because they don’t find it viable at the prices to make ends meet, to cover the fuel costs and wages. Basically they’re just working for nothing.”

The government hopes the fund will turn this situation round. “This £10m scheme will provide a lifeline for more than 1,000 fishing businesses so they can continue to maintain and operate their boats during this challenging time, which has seen falling prices and lack of demand for fish from the restaurant industry,” said environment secretary George Eustace.

All businesses with an annual turnover of £10,000 or more are eligible to receive a cash grant to help with fixed costs such as insurance, equipment hire and port costs. £1m of the fund has been set aside to help fishermen find new markets for their catch.

Anything better than nothing

“One or two of the smaller boats won’t meet those criteria as fishing’s been so bad the last couple of years,” Joy said. “Some will just miss out, which is unfortunate. Hopefully the majority will qualify. Anything is better than nothing.”

The scheme, which will run for three months, is aimed at boats of under 24 metres. The Hastings fleet consists of some 30 boats of under 10 metres. Including onshore support staff, fishing provides a livelihood for some 100 people.

Sonny Elliott: still selling.

The fund is being administered by the Marine Management Organisation, which by 27 April had already been in touch with several boat owners and made payments.

Joy was one who had received payment, though it was a token amount, he said. It covered two months – it remained to be seen if a further payment for the third month would be forthcoming.

The devolved administrations were quicker off the mark to provide support to their fishing businesses, with payments starting in March, Joy noted.

Meanwhile the fish market on Rock-a-Nore is closed, but some of the shops and stalls remain open. They include Sonny Elliott’s Rock-a-Nore Fisheries, RX Fisheries and Paul and Rob Stanley‘s family stall – the Stanleys have started making deliveries to bolster the business.

 

Article amended by Nick Terdre on 27 April.

Posted 12:45 Friday, Apr 24, 2020 In: Covid-19

Also in: Covid-19

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