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Thursday, 5 August, 1999, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Ageing fishing fleet 'endangering lives'
Fishermen at work
About 18,000 fishermen are employed in the industry
More research into whether Britain's "geriatric" fishing fleet is putting lives at risk is needed, according to a committee of MPs.

A Commons committee has been told the "deteriorating" state of Britain's 8,300 trawlers was a key factor in the industry's high death toll.

Fishing had the highest death toll of any industry in 1997, with the loss of 29 lives. In 1998 some 18,000 fishermen were employed across the UK.

A fishing trawler
There are concerns about the age of the British fleet
The call for more research has been welcomed by Scottish fishermen's organisations.

The Commons Agriculture Select Committee says more research is needed after being told that over half of the 23 UK vessels lost in 1997 were over 20 years old.

The committee recently took evidence in Scotland.

The Ministry of Agriculture says there is no clear link between the age of the fleet and fatalities but the committee has called for more research.

Preparing a report on sea fishing, the committee heard 42% of the boats over 24 metres long in the UK fishing fleet were more than 25 years old.

The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations said the age of the UK fleet compared poorly with other European fleets.

Fleet 'deteriorating'

The body warned the age of fishing vessels was "a central factor in the industry's casualty rate".

The Sea Fishing Industry Authority pointed to analysis "which shows that older vessels are more likely to be lost at sea".

But Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley testified: "In relation to the issue of fleet age and accident rates, there is no simple correlation."

He cited evidence by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency which showed the average age of vessels involved in accidents was below the corresponding average age for the UK fleet.

Although the MPs found the age of the UK fleet was not too out of line with the EU average, they warned it was "deteriorating".

The report said: "From the conflicting evidence, we conclude that the linkage between an ageing fleet and an unsafe fleet is unproven but we recommend further research be conducted in this area and the results published and distributed to the fishing industry."

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