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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 15:01 GMT
The decline of an industry
fishermen
Coastal communities depend on fishing for their survival
Fifty years ago Britain's fishing industry employed around 50,000 fishermen. Today there are around 17,000.

Just eight years ago, the UK exported nearly 229,000 tonnes of fish a year. In 1999, that figure had more than halved.

Fish exports tonnes 1999 (1992)
Mackerel 60,244 (135,698)
Herring 34,069 (75,519)
Cod 8,028 (7,206)

And fishermen's leaders are predicting that those numbers will decline further after the huge cuts in catch quotas agreed in Brussels.

Thousands of jobs will not only be lost on the boats, but also further down the supply chain - the fish processors, the net makers, the equipment suppliers, the market sellers and the transport companies whose livelihoods also depend on the industry.

"The effects probably won't be felt for several months, but when fishermen reach their quota limits in the middle of next year, jobs will go," said Martin Boyers, chief executive of the Grimsby fish merchants' association.

"And for every fisherman's job that goes, eight more shore jobs will follow," he added.

The fishermen argue they are struggling to survive in an industry hit hard by quotas, restrictions and declining fish stocks.

By the 1930s, British fishermen bought home 300,000 tonnes of cod annually. EU officials say today there are only 70,000 tonnes of adult cod left in the North Sea.

uk fishing ports

But ministers insist they have secured a good deal, balancing the needs of fishermen with the demands of conservation.

They say quotas have to be cut by up to 40% to preserve depleting stocks.

And underlying this is the fear that the European fishing industry could go the same way as that on Canada's Atlantic seaboard in the 1990s, which saw its whole industry wiped out because the government imposed a moratorium on fishing.

Common Fisheries Policy

Top UK ports (by value m)
Peterhead (78.9)
Lochinver (34.7)
Fraserburgh (27.9)
Aberdeen (26.2)
Scrabster (25.5)
Newlyn (17.7)
Milford Haven (17.1)
Brixham (15.8)
Mallaig (15.4)
Lerwick (15.3)
1999 figures
Hull (11.7)

UK fishermen blame the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) agreed in Brussels in 1983 for the root of their troubles.

This set up a system of quotas for each member state to conserve depleting fish resources.

It also established a coastal band around the shores of each country reserved for local fishermen.

But those involved in the industry believe the system is poorly enforced and does not work, and they argue that millions of tonnes of fish have been thrown back in the sea, as a result of quota rules.

They also point out that for years foreign vessels, especially from Spain, registered in Britain under "flags of convenience" to claim part of the annual quota.

This led to bitter battles between British and Spanish fishermen in the 1990s, although the previous Conservative government under John Major put a stop to this so-called "quota hopping".

The European fishing sector

The fishing industry makes up less than 1% of the European economy.

But the EU fisheries commissioner Franz Fischler describes it as "highly significant", as a source of employment in areas where there are often few alternatives.

The European Union is the world's third-largest fishing power after China and Peru, with a fleet of vessels more than 97,000 strong.

Europewide, some 260,000 fishermen are directly employed in catching fish, generating more jobs in processing, packaging, marketing and transportation.

Greece has the largest fleet, with more than 20% of European Community vessels, followed by Italy (19%) and Spain (17.5%).

Belgium ranks last, with a fleet of just 0.1% of the EU total.

Small oily fish such as mackerel, herrings and sardines account for almost half of the total catch.

But the economic weight of the sector rests on valuable species like cod, even though these only account for around 4% of the total catch.

The EU as a whole imports more than it exports, with the biggest importers being Spain, the UK and Germany.

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See also:

15 Dec 00 | Europe
EU slashes fish catches
15 Dec 00 | UK
The fishy tale of cod
15 Dec 00 | UK
Jobs fear over fish cuts
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