Gaby Bartai look backs on another challenging year for the UK and Irish industry
After the Year of Covid and the Year of Brexit, 2022 will go down at the Year of Ukraine. The Russian invasion in February sent fuel, and then energy, prices spiraling. Food security became a political issue in a way previously familiar only to older generations. Economic turmoil – some of it global, some generated rather closer to home – became endemic.
But for the industry this was also the year of ‘spatial squeeze’, with the catching sector increasingly under pressure on multiple fronts: from the proliferation of wind farms, from the designation of MPAs and the impending threat of HPMAs and – especially in the Channel – from competition from foreign vessels fishing up to the six-mile line.
For fishermen in particular areas, there were specific local issues that overshadowed everything: the continuing shellfish die-offs in the North East; the dearth of fish stocks off the South East coast; the desperate shortage of crew in the Clyde and Northern Ireland; the loss of quota in the Brexit TCA that is forcing a reduction in fleet capacity in Ireland.
But it is a perennial feature of fishing that one month’s crisis becomes the next month’s new normal, as the industry steps up, takes stock, regroups and carries on. The 51 2022 issues of Fishing News are, by and large, a record of storms weathered as the industry, despite all odds, found a way to get the boat out, and the catch home.
The year opened with the news that negotiations with the EU and Norway on TACs and access had finally reached an agreement – albeit a fortnight after the 10 December deadline. The key issue of access to Norwegian waters was resolved, with the two countries agreeing to restore reciprocal access after the standoff in 2021.
However, the deal – regaining only a fraction of the 60% distant-waters quota lost in 2021 – was condemned by Kirkella owner UK Fisheries, which warned of impending job losses on Humberside. The pelagic sector was also unimpressed, flagging up a ‘troubling imbalance’ of fishing opportunities between the UK and Norway, while for whitefish skippers the low quota for cod raised the threat of a choke in the North Sea fishery.
It was confirmed that 2022 would again see no tonnage limits set for non-quota stocks, deferring yet again the issue of non-quota stock management – which NFFO CEO Barrie Deas described as ‘the mother of all problems’.
In what would become one of the year’s running stories, it was reported that the unexplained shellfish die-offs first reported in October 2021 were continuing off the Yorkshire coast.
On the Clyde, fishermen faced the shock announcement from the Scottish government that the annual cod closure would apply to all gears, with a blanket ban on all fishing in the Clyde Box for 11 weeks. “Words can hardly describe the devastation,” said Simon Macdonald of the West Coast Regional Inshore Fisheries Group.
The MMO confirmed the timetable for IVMS roll-out to the under-12m fleet in England, which envisaged equipment being installed on all vessels by the end of 2022.
Defra announced tighter economic link regulations for foreign-owned vessels registered in England from April.
The £75m balance of the £100m UK Seafood Fund was released, with £65m to be invested in infrastructure projects and £10m for recruiting and upskilling workers.
An interim control plan was agreed for the weighing of Irish pelagic landings, in a dispute between the Irish industry and the EU dating back to 2018.
It was announced that Brixham had clocked up a record-breaking year in 2021 with £43.6m-worth of fish sold through its auction – but that Peterhead had failed to hit the million-box mark for the first time in several years.
The deaths were announced of Peterhead skipper Andrew Buchan, former Fishing News contributor Patricia O’Driscoll, Shetland fisherman and pier master Allister Rendall and Dutch gear salesman Jan van Putten.
The 2022 Fishing News Awards were launched, set to return as a live event in Aberdeen in May after a two-year Covid hiatus.
The industry reacted in fury to the announcement that the MMO had dropped its prosecution of Greenpeace for the illegal dumping of boulders in the Offshore Brighton MPA in February 2021, with the presiding judge accused of ‘exceeding his legal role’ by suggesting that the MMO and Greenpeace should be on the same side in protecting the marine environment. Barrie Deas condemned the decision, saying it would give the ‘green light’ to further vigilante action.
Protests grew over the provisions of the new under-15m MCA safety code, with many inshore fishermen reporting that changes were being demanded of their boats that they felt compromised vessel and crew safety. Over the weeks and months that followed, FN featured the stories of fishermen from around the country whose boats were tied up as a result, with a number of popular vessel designs affected.
It was announced that the use of the controversial Catch App for under-10m vessels would be enforced by the MMO from 28 February, while compulsory IVMS for all Welsh vessels came into force.
A compromise was agreed on the Clyde Cod Box closure whereby the closed area would be reduced by 28% – while still excluding all gears from the remaining area.
Defra issued a report on the North East shellfish die-offs claiming that it was due to an algal bloom – a finding disputed by fishermen in the region, whose independently commissioned research pointed to the chemical pyridine as a potential cause.
The Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association and Shetland Fishermen’s Association announced that they would henceforth be funding their own stock surveys to help address the data gaps in key North Sea stocks.
Newlyn mourned the passing of vessel owner Billy Stevenson and harbour master Andrew Munson, while Brixham bade farewell to skipper John Lovell.
A warning was issued about the threat of imminent tie-ups across the industry as a result of rocketing fuel prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with a Seafish report confirming the ‘existential’ threat to the fleet, and one Whitstable skipper trailering his boat to a petrol station to protest at supply problems and exorbitant prices at the quayside.
The IVMS saga became mired in further confusion with the suspension of approval for one of the four terminals previously approved by the MMO for installation on English vessels. This was reinstated later in the month – but the first of several extensions to the timetable for installation was announced.
The ScrapTheApp campaign launched a legal challenge to the Catch App as enforcement got underway. NUTFA called for a limit on engine size for vessels working inside 12 miles in English waters as a means to curb the activities of mainly Dutch fly-draggers blamed for decimating stocks.
The Scottish cabinet secretary for rural affairs issued a ‘sincere’ apology for the way the Clyde cod closure had been handled – but her government ruled out any compensation for the vessels affected.
Tragedy struck the North Sea fleet when crewman Ronald Mackinnon was lost when the trawler Njord capsized 100 miles off Stavanger. Her remaining seven crew were rescued from the hull of the vessel before it sank.
The deaths were announced of Dorset industry stalwart David Sales BEM, Brixham skipper, vessel owner and BTA founding director David Pynn, Newlyn skipper John Trenerry, and Fife skipper and engineering pioneer David Tod BEM.
The 27.8m twin-rigger Sparkling Star was launched at Middlesbrough for Kinlochbervie skipper James Corbett, while the Shetland inshore fleet welcomed the new Valentia LK 21.
There was outrage at the revelation that Russian vessels were being allowed to fish blue whiting in the zone under joint Faroese/UK control. Government plans to impose a 35% tariff on Russian whitefish imports had to be put on hold to give the fish and chip shop trade time to source alternative supplies, revealing the extent of the UK’s dependence on Russian fish.
The ongoing row about the weighing of Irish pelagic landings hit the blue whiting season when the first of several foreign vessels chose to steam back to their home ports rather than land over a weighbridge at Kellybegs – which the skippers said would have rendered their catch fit only for fishmeal.
Skippers and industry leaders from the main North Sea fishing nations met in Copenhagen to take the next steps in developing industry-led surveys to improve data for cod stock management, with a symposium proposed for later in the year.
The latest edition of the MCS Good Fish Guide drew industry fire for including West of Scotland crab and lobster, and North Sea and West of Scotland, among its ‘fish to avoid’.
The industry bade farewell to Newlyn trawlerman and anti-CFP campaigner Mike ‘Grimmy’ Mahon and 104-year-old Hull heritage supporter Eric Tharratt.
Lauren D 95 – the second of a trio of identical sisterships – joined the Irish fleet, while Parkol build Day Dawn FR 90 headed home to Fraserburgh.
Fishermen’s Mission chief executive David Dickens retired, handing over the reins to incoming CE Marc Evans.
Two port records tumbled, with the Margaret of Ladram setting a new £156,265 landings record at Brixham, and the St Georges smashing the Newlyn record that had been set by the Enterprise only six weeks previously.
UK politicians and industry leaders continued to pressure the Faroese on the issue of Russian vessels’ access to the joint UK-Faroe zone – but while Faroe then conceded insofar as to implement a package of sanctions against Russia, these turned out to include an exemption for vessels sailing for ‘medical, food, energy and humanitarian purposes’.
English and French vessels forged an unlikely alliance with Greenpeace to stage a mid-Channel protest against the damage being done to stocks by fly-draggers and other large vessels fishing in the Channel.
Two reports published in the same week claimed significant levels of exploitation and abuse of foreign crew in the UK industry, bringing the inadequacies of the Seafarers’ Transit Visa system under the spotlight. The industry added its voice to the need for visa provision to be reviewed – while roundly condemning any abuse, which they stressed was down to a few rogue operators.
The South Devon industry mourned the loss of shellfish skipper Bruce Bennett, while Hull said goodbye to Yvonne Blenkinsop, the last of the four Hull ‘headscarf revolutionaries’ who led the groundbreaking safety campaign after the 1968 Triple Trawler Disaster.
The Fishing News Awards made a triumphant return as a live event, with winners named in 10 categories. The individual awards included, for the first time, two for female fishermen, Ashley Mullenger in the Under-10m category and Isla Gale in the Trainee category. Craig McGowan was named Over-10m Fisherman of the Year, while the Young Fisherman of the Year was Rowan Davies. The Lifetime Achievement Award went, by the unanimous decision of the judging panel, to much-missed former Fishing News editor David Linkie, who passed away in 2021.
The industry came out in force to condemn foreign crew abuse – and to reiterate the importance of establishing a skilled worker route for employing foreign crew.
A flotilla of inshore boats headed up the Tees to highlight the continuing shellfish die-offs in the region, and the pressing need both for answers on the cause and support for the affected fishermen.
Wash cockle fishermen reacted in shock to the news that the fishery might not open in 2022 due to low stock levels.
Smouldering discontent with local fisheries management on the east coast escalated when some three dozen fishermen turned up to an Eastern IFCA meeting and called a gallery motion of no confidence in the authority. In Cornwall, fishermen staged a protest against a proposed CIFCA gill-netting byelaw that they said could put many inshore fishermen out of business.
The fuel crisis continued to escalate – but the government reiterated that it had no plans to offer any subsidy to the industry.
The new twin-rigger Celestial Dawn BF 109 joined the Scottish fleet after completion at Macduff Shipyards.
Fishing News found itself caught up in the ‘woke wars’ after a politician questioned the Fishing News Awards’ use of ‘fisherman’ in its category titles – only to be told in no uncertain terms by the two female winners that they were, in fact, fishermen, and proud to be so. “The job title is fisherman,” said Isla Gale.
The NFFO and SFF released a landmark report detailing the ‘spatial squeeze’ on the fishing industry, revealing that in a worst-cast scenario, 50% of waters in the UK EEZ will no longer be available to the industry by 2050.
Fishermen in the North East of England expressed dismay at the proposal to designate a Highly Protected Marine Area around Lindisfarne – one of five proposed pilot sites – which threatened to put a number of inshore boats out of business and displace many more from their local grounds. Meanwhile, shellfish fishermen on the Yorkshire coast reiterated their call for urgent government action to get to the bottom of the continuing shellfish die-offs in the region.
It emerged that the threatened closure of the 2022 Wash cockle fishery was down to a misplaced decimal point in bird count figures – leading to the decision that the fishery could open after all.
There was also good news from ICES, with recommendations for a 44% increase in the North Sea cod TAC, a 160% increase for haddock on the back of a ‘record’ year-class and a 314% increase for whiting.
On the debit side, Norway issued itself further unilateral increases of mackerel quota after a UK-Norway ministerial meeting that appeared to have achieved very little.
The Irish industry issues a call for fuel support from its government, pointing out that the EU had approved such support and several other states were already benefitting. Meanwhile, the UK government again ruled out fuel support for its industry, despite the continuing calls for aid to avoid the risk of tie-ups.
A hard-hitting report from the MAIB on the Nicola Faith tragedy, which capsized and sank with the loss of three lives in January 2021, laid bare the dangers of pushing a vessel and a crew too far.
The latest addition to the Waterdance fleet, the 21.4m crabber Winter of Ladram, was launched in Whitby.
The EU approved a €80m Irish decommissioning scheme to support the sector in the wake of Brexit. The prospect of the loss of up to 60 whitefish vessels was greeted with dismay by the Irish industry, which said it was a ‘disaster’ and a ‘betrayal’ that things had come to this.
Greenpeace made a bid for headlines by threatening more illegal boulder dumping to ‘protect’ a deepwater MPA from trawling – despite the fact that scarcely any trawling took place there.
It was announced that the MXA had signed a contract with Bristow Helicopters to deliver SAR services for the next 10 years.
The 2022 catch, tag and release bluefin tuna programme started amidst calls for a small targeted UK commercial fishery, with sightings of the fish as far north as Fair Isle.
Plymouth fishermen reacted with surprise to an Environment Agency story on the Sutton Harbour lock gates, saying that its description of them being fully involved in planning the work had come as news to them.
In the South West, the industry mourned the loss of Scilly Isles skipper Ian Mitchell, while the Dorset fleet said its goodbyes to skipper Bill Bailey.
The appointment of Liz Truss as prime minister – heralded as the dawn of a new era of stable and responsible government – saw Ranil Jayawardena become secretary of state for the environment and Mark Spencer take over as fisheries minister.
Greenpeace went ahead with its threat to dump boulders in the South West Deeps MPA – garnering little in the was of publicity or reaction from the industry, which regarded the dumping of 18 boulders in a 4,767km2 deepwater MPA with all the concern it deserved. The prospect of further action was then scotched by the MMO, which threatened legal action against Poole Harbour if it allowed more boulders to be taken onboard the Greenpeace vessel.
Three new wind farms east of Shetland were announced – a prospect greeted with alarm by the local industry, which warned that the proposed areas overlapped important nursery and spawning grounds.
The industry poured scorn on a Blue Marine Foundation campaign to ‘save British cod’ pointing out that the ‘disappearing’ cod were shifting north due to climate change – and that skippers in the northern North Sea were struggling to avoid them.
The MMO announced yet another extension to the deadlines for vessels in England to install IVMS equipment – and plans for ‘additional testing’ of the four terminals to which had already given approval.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation and the Fair Food Programme announced a pilot project to introduce the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility model in the UK fishing industry, as calls continued to grow for reform of the visa system for employing foreign crew.
It was reported that the last three remaining fishermen at Fleetwood stood to lose the berthing space that had been gifted to the port’s inshore fishermen by Queen Victoria in 1887,
NFFO chief executive Barrie Deas announced that he was set to retire in April 2023, after 28 years at the helm.
In a busy month in what was generally a quieter year for new builds, the 22.7m trawler Green Isle SO 500, for Greencastle skipper Michael Cavanagh, was launched at Parkol Marine Engineering’s Middlesbrough yard. The new Artemis BF 60 joined the Scottish midwater fleet, taking her maiden catch en route from Kartensen’s yard in Skagen. The latest Macduff Shipyards build, the 17.4m crabber Euroclydon GY 77, headed south to join the Grimsby fleet. Meanwhile, Cornish yard C Toms & Son celebrated its centenary.
A new employment permit system for non-EEA crew working on Irish vessels was announced, replacing the widely criticised Atypical Working Scheme. The Scottish Parliament endorsed a new visa system for foreign crew – though unfortunately without the constitutional authority to implement it.
A draft independent report by academics from four universitites found that the evidence pointed to industrial toxins being the cause of the ongoing North East shellfish die-offs – not an algal bloom, as Defra continued to insist. Calls mounted for dredged material from the Tees – described as an ‘ecological timebimb’ – be sent to landfill rather than dumped at sea.
A draft independent report by academics from four universities found that the evidence pointed to industrial toxins being the cause of the ongoing North East shellfish die-offs – not an algal bloom, as Defra continued to insist. Calls mounted for dredged material from the Tees – described as an ‘ecological timebomb’ – be sent to landfill rather than dumped at sea.
After a six-year legal saga, a judge overturned the conviction of the skipper and owner of the Stella Maris PH 97 for allegedly fishing in an MPA, in a case brought by D&SIFCA on IVMS evidence alone. In response, the IFCA merely flagged up plans ro press ahead with compulsory onboard cameras.
Tougher economic links were announced for the Scottish industry, under which all Scottish vessels will have to land at least 55% of their catch to Scottish ports by 2025, or gift quota in lieu – a decision with which the pelagic industry expressed itself ‘disappointed’.
The Irish industry secured a record budget provision for 2023 – but still no subsidy for vessels hit by rocketing fuel costs.
The Guiding Star H 360 was lost off Fair Isle after a collision with her sistership Guiding Light. Thankfully, all eight crew were rescued safely.
North East fishermen’s representatives took the shellfish die-off crisis to Westminster, giving evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, where they again called for a halt to dredge spoils dumping. In response to a supportive letter from committee chair Sir Robert Goodwill, Defra announced that an independant panel would be established to review all of the evidene on the shellfish mortalities. However, it reinstated that it had no plans to pause the dredging.
As yet another government was installed at Westminster, Thérèse Coffey was named as the latest Defra minster – the fifth since 2019. New fisheries minister Mark Spencer drew industry fire for seeming to endorse the Blue Marine Foundation ‘Bring Back British Cod’ campaign.
The landmark cod symposium in Edinburgh was hailed a success, building relationships between industry and scientists as a basis for better collaboration and imprroved data and stock assessments. There was more good news for North Sea fishermen as ICES raised its cod TAC uplift advice to 63%.
It was announced that the UK Fisheries vessel Farnella would tie up permanently at the end of the year due to the loss of distant-water quota in successive negotiations with Norway.
The Irish industry called for an EU rebuttal of Norwegian demands for greated access to blue whiting in the Irish EEZ without any recirpocal benefits for Ireland.
A massive expansion to the Ossian wind farm off the Scottish east coast was announed, making it potentially one of the five largest installations in the world.
The Ocean Maid BA 55 sank after grounding off Cairnbulg, southeast of Fraserburgh. Her four crew were rescued by the RNLI. Off the Cornish coast, two Cadgwith fishermen were rescued by their own lifeboat crewmates when their vessel Crig a Tana SC 25 was lost.
The 2021 UK fisheries statistics were published, showing an increase in landings and values across the UK fleet, and a recovery from Covid lows in the majority of ports.
Parkol Marine Engineering’s latest build Green Isle SO 500 headed home from Whitby to join the Donegal fleet.
The long-awaited Joint Fisheries Statement was published, setting out the frameworkd of post-Brexit fisheries policy by the four UK administrations, but notable light on detail. ” The provides the policy frameworkd, but it doesn’t provide the policy,” said Barrie Deas.
The saga on Irish pelagic weighing reached – possibly – a conclusion with the news that the EU had approved Ireland’s new control plan.
TN Trawlers were fined £13,500 and ordered to pay £3,000 compensation to a Filipino crewman who sustained a head injusry onboard the Philomena TN 37, but then had to wait over 12 hours before he was finally taken ashore.
The new 34.5m twin-rigger Venture IV was signed over to skipper Mark Lovie by Macduff Shipyards.
It was announced that NFFO deputy chief executive Mike Cohen will take over the helm at the federation when Barrie Deas retires in April.
2022 ended on a tragic note when the Jersey vessel L’Ecume II collided with a Condor Ferries freighter and sank rapidly, with the loss of her skipper Michael Michieli and crewmen Larry Simyun and Jervis Baligat.
As the industry looked ahead to a new year, negotiations between the UK and Norway on fishing opportunities for 2023 concluded with an agreement hailed a success by both the Scottish and UK governments, but less so by industry representatives – particularly UK fisheries, which said that the modest quota gains were ‘another body blow for fishers in the North East of England’.
The North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission confirmed TACs for shared pelagic stocks – but it remained to be seen whether the nortner states would abide by these, or again award themselves quotas well in excess of the agreed levels.
The conclusion to the bilateral UK-EU negotiations was still awaited as the final 2022 issue of Fishing News went to press – but with a positive outscome to the trilateral negotiations and an uplift in the UK share of five out of the six North Sea shared stocks, reflecting encouraging shared stock assessments, one section of the industry was at least looking forward to the new year with more optimism.
This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here.