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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 02:08 GMT
Future bleak for Grimsby's fishermen
Grimsby fish market
Bustling scenes at Grimsby's fish market are deceptive
The European Commission is meeting in Brussels to discuss fishing catch quota cuts to combat depleting stocks.

BBC News Online's Mike Mckay visited Grimsby fishport to gauge the mood of those whose livelihood depends on a thriving fishing industry.

Bill Hardy flipped through the controls of his GPS plotter and dozens of vessels' names popped up on the dark screen in his dog-house.

How much longer I'll stay in the industry I don't know

Bill Hardy
Skipper of Stormy C
"Wrecks," said Bill. "That's where they congregate, the cod. Don't ask me why, but that's where we find them." Then his mood sharpened.

He was recollecting the last couple of years of quota reductions in the North Sea.

"If the government don't provide some help to the British fishing industry, I think we'll lose the fleet," he said bitterly.

The skipper of the Grimsby-based "Stormy C" - just in from 10 days fishing - is seething with indignation at the treatment he has experienced since buying his boat three years ago.

'Dying breed'

He had borrowed from the bank to buy more quota, adding 25 tonnes to his annual allowable catch of 147,000 tonnes.

Bill Hardy, captain of fishing vessel Stormy C
Bill Hardy: Fears they will lose their fleet
But two EU quota reviews have slashed 60% from his limit.

And he receives nothing in compensation.

Now he faces both the bank - demanding repayment for his original loan -and the Inland Revenue - demanding tax on an asset they still value at his original purchase price.

Bill - 38 years a fisherman - is furious.

"I'm being robbed of an asset I paid good money for - and the government don't want to know.

"How much longer I'll stay in the industry I don't know," he says in frank despair.

Skipper Hardy, 56, is one of a dying breed.

Thirty five years ago, when he was starting out, there were nearly 400 registered fishing vessels in Grimsby. Now they are down to 20.

Business brisk

Walk into the early morning fish market, across the harbour, and it is easy to be misled about the state of British fishing.

Martin Boyers, chief executive, Grimsby fish market
Martin Boyers is delighted with the haul - but there is a catch
Hundreds of buyers, merchants and auctioneers are jostling around 8,000 boxes of wet fish. It is a pre-Christmas bonanza.

Martin Boyers, chief executive of the market, is delighted at the haul.

The calm seas have been perfect for abundant fishing. But there is a catch to this catch.

"Only about two per cent are from British boats fishing in the North Sea," says Martin.

"The rest are from Iceland and the Faeroes. We call it overland fish."

That is because the haddock, skate, sole, turbot, plaice, monk-fish and cod filling the yellow boxes have been caught by foreign vessels, taken back to home ports and then shipped across the North Sea by container ship.

Landed at Immingham, they are then driven to Grimsby fish market.

Nice work for British truckers. Bad news for British fishermen.

The prospects after this week's quota review do not promise any improvement.

Cuts expected

Earlier this month Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler warned that EU fish stocks were still in an "alarming state" despite cuts of more than 70% in some stocks last year.

Mr Fischler called for further cuts of up to 58% in Baltic cod, 52% in Irish Sea haddock and 25% in North Sea sole.

Last year's total allowable catch of North Sea cod (Tacs) should remain in force, he warned.

Mr Boyers shares the British fishermen's scepticism about the scientific basis for these demands.

"You've got to question the scientific evidence because 16 or 17 years of quota negotiations and cuts have got us nowhere.

The trouble is, once you've let an experienced crew go, it's very hard to find a good replacement

Kurt Christiansen
Like Bill Hardy, he believes that in the politics of European fishing, Britain does not fight its corner like the Spanish, the Danes, the Dutch and other nations.

Fishing agent Kurt Christiansen - himself also a vessel owner - says there is "a damn sight more fish out there" than the EU scientists realise.

Kurt Christiansen, fish auctioneer and agent
Kurt Christiansen is stuck on dry land
He is not convinced by their "snap shot" of stocks in European waters.

Like many of his colleagues on the market, he argues that bigger mesh sizes in nets would overcome the problem of vessels hauling up young cod, which then have to be dumped, usually dead, back into the sea for fear of breaking quota limits. Discards, they are called.

Kurt revealed that his own boat, the Saroya, had not been to sea since being forced with the rest of the British fleet into 10 weeks of 'purdah' earlier this year.

"The trouble is, once you've let an experienced crew go, it's very hard to find a good replacement," he said.

Outside, a gleaming shard of blue sky gave way suddenly to a deep curtain of drizzle across the Grimsby dock-scape.

Pretty much like the business outlook for the region's surviving fishermen.

See also:

17 Dec 01 | Scotland
Minister in fishing cuts warning
04 Dec 01 | Europe
Fishermen face new quota cuts
17 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Fish stocks 'failure' attacked
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