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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Trawler giant battles fuel crisis
Trawler fuel costs have more than doubled for Stevenson and Son
One of Europe's largest privately-owned trawler fleets is in crisis because fuel prices have rocketed.

Stevenson and Sons, based at Newlyn in Cornwall, owns 35 vessels - including 24 beam trawlers.

Six of its beam trawlers have already been laid up, but the firm says numbers could be cut even further as the business fights to keep afloat.

The firm says it is losing money after fuel costs doubled in the past year to about 7,000 a week for a beam trawler.

The fishing is good at the moment and if fuel was at the French level, everyone would be happy
Elizabeth Stevenson

Stevensons said it was paying 14.6p a litre last June for diesel fuel which rose to 32p two weeks ago and is about 30p now.

With beam trawlers using 20-30,000 litres of diesel a week, costs of fuel as well as maintenance, replacing gear and harbour fees have eaten up profits.

Company boss Elizabeth Stevenson, also secretary of the Cornish Fish Producers Association, told BBC News: "There is no profit, just huge losses, so it is a very serious situation at the moment.

"I have been in the business for 31 years and I have never had to face this before.

"We are having to look at streamlining to enable us to continue in the future."

She said it was time for the government to help the struggling industry after the French fishing ministry last week announced a cap on fuel prices for fishermen equivalent to about 20p a litre, about a third less than UK fishermen pay.

Level playing field

She said: "The fishing is good at the moment and if fuel was at the French level, everyone would be happy.

"It's incredible. We are meant to be on a level playing field, but it is not level at all."

Jim Portus, chief executive of the South West Fish Producers Organisation, said there had yet to be a response from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) over last week's proposal from fishery leaders for aid to help with the fuel price rises or cash for decommissioning craft.

He said: "I fear a collapse of the industry which would take not just boats, but entire communities which are dependent on fish, and that is not in anybody's interest."

A Defra spokesman said: "Members of the industry have proposed government support both for decommissioning vessels and for interim aid.

"The government has made clear in the past its view that operating subsidies are not appropriate, but Defra will of course consider the proposals which have been made and will respond to the industry as soon as possible."

He said operational subsidies for fishermen were against EU rules and the European Commission was investigating.

"We look to the Commission to uphold the level playing field between member states."

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