NFFO: Urgent help for industry essential

Campaign for package for England and Wales

Pressure is mounting on the UK government for a tailored support package for the fishing industry in England and Wales.

The NFFO, which has sent a detailed briefing note to MPs and peers asking for their support, points out that Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man have already announced financial support packages of various kinds for their fleets (see below and page 6 of this week’s Fishing News).

Image: NFFO chief executive Barrie Deas: “A real danger businesses could go under.”

It says that the focus is now on Westminster for parallel support for fishing businesses squeezed by mounting fixed costs and collapsed demand due to Covid-19, and who cannot access other business support mechanisms.

“This is now urgent,” said NFFO chief executive Barrie Deas. “The chancellor has said the government will do what it takes to support businesses and workers through this crisis, and it is true that the level of support is unprecedented.

“Our problem is that our industry is unique in its structure and organisation. The broad-brush approach leaves many fishing enterprises at risk of business failure.

“We need a bespoke fishing industry support scheme that will allow us to keep our heads above water until this crisis subsides. Without that support to cover ongoing fixed costs, there is a real danger that businesses of all sizes could go under.”

He said that the federation has made the case to DEFRA, and believes that it has been well understood, and that it accords with the data gathered by the government on landings, costs, earnings and prices.

“What we need now is a decision and an announcement,” he said.

“Our longstanding fear is that when it comes to a crisis like this, there is no voice at ministerial level making the case for the English industry. The UK ministerial role means that we do not have the clout when push comes to shove. I very much hope that I am wrong about this. The final decision will lie with the Treasury, but the future without bridging support is stark indeed.”

He pointed out that direct support is quite rightly being given to the hospitality and restaurant sectors, as they have been closed down during the health emergency. But there is a clear gap in the support for those, like fishermen, who supply those restaurants.

“Apart from a few local landings, the shellfish market has evaporated,” said Barrie Deas. “Restaurants have closed. Fish and chip shops have largely closed. Some supermarkets have closed their fish counters. Many export markets have collapsed.

“Some innovative ways to sell fish to the doorstep are underway, but we are under no illusion that these initiatives can replace the mainstream supply chains.”

He said that the federation is mounting ‘a strenuous campaign’ for a bespoke scheme for the English and Welsh industries, including enlisting the support of MPs and peers.

Bid for help for over-12s in Scotland

In Scotland, while a £5m support package has been announced for the under-12m fleet, there is no scheme in place for the over-12m fleet, and the industry is in talks with Marine Scotland to try to get help for this sector, reports Tim Oliver.

Mike Park, chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association, said that he believes the Scottish government understands the need to support the over-12s – the problem is trying to work out the details of who needs support most, and how to get money to them ‘in short order’.

“Everyone thinks in this crisis they have a justifiable case for aid, as they probably do, but I guess the difference is that some areas of the industry are continuing with some normality, but in others they have lost markets and whole fleets are tied to the wall. It’s a matter of trying to identify the differences in the criteria.”

He said that while eligibility criteria and support packages could be defined for onshore businesses in terms of profits, turnover, etc, this did not necessarily translate to the offshore business of fishing with its widely varying conditions.

“We are talking to officials, trying to work out certain elements, levels of funding, eligibility criteria and so on,” he told Fishing News.

“We’re kind of getting towards an area where we can agree. So I would imagine that before long, officials will put some proposals to the minister.”

NFFO calls on MPs and peers to back fishing industry

The NFFO has sent a briefing to MPs and peers asking them to ‘urgently support’ the federation’s campaign for a bespoke support package for the fishing industry and coastal communities in England during the current Covid-19 emergency.

It tells the parliamentarians that there is virtually a complete cessation of fishing in some areas of the country, and that the whole industry is struggling with reduced demand and logistical challenges.

The briefing points out that the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has said he will do ‘whatever it takes’ to support businesses and workers through the Covid-19 crisis. However, it says that despite the unprecedented scale and nature of the support packages that have made available, these do not significantly help English fisheries, and many businesses and jobs are therefore at risk.

Very few fishermen are paid through PAYE, so they cannot access ‘furlough’ financial support, and fishing businesses do not qualify for small business grants. Other measures such as reduction in business rates, which help most businesses, do not help fishing, as boats are subject to harbour fees, which continue, rather than rates. There are also other fixed costs, such as insurance and equipment rentals, which remain under contract and continue to rise.

Bespoke packages of support have been provided in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and it is understood that an announcement of support in Wales is imminent. The NFFO says that it is deeply concerned about the lack of bespoke government support available for the English fishing industry.

Main NFFO demands

Urgent action must be taken in order to support English fisheries. The NFFO would like MPs and peers to call for:

 

  • A bespoke fishing industry support scheme to ensure fishing businesses and coastal communities across the UK survive the Covid-19 crisis
  • A support scheme in England that is parallel to the bespoke packages in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales
  • Support from the government which will allow the industry to be in a strong position as we become an independent coastal state at the end of the withdrawal agreement transition period on 31 December
  • A clear signal from the UK government that the fishing industry is valued, and that financial support will be granted.

Bespoke fishing industry support scheme for England

The NFFO says that in this unprecedented period of social and economic uncertainty, fishermen, many of whom are self-employed, will be feeling the pressures of having to cut costs to make ends meet. The government has not delivered support that significantly helps the industry, and many are now in urgent need of financial provision to support them through this difficult period.

The Scottish government, the Northern Ireland executive and the Isle of Man government have already announced financial support packages for their respective fishing industries.

  • The Scottish government announced a £5m Sea Fisheries Intervention Fund for its seafood industry. An initial payment of 50% of two months’ average earnings will be made to owners of all full-time Scottish-registered fishing vessels of 12m and under. These initial payments will be capped at a maximum of £27,000. The Scottish government has also said that support is being developed for the onshore processing industry and the shellfish growing industry.
  • The Northern Irish executive has announced a £1.5m support package for its fishing industry, and the Isle of Man government has announced more than £370,000 for its fleet.

The NFFO says that the UK government must therefore now announce parallel support for fishing businesses and coastal communities in England which are being squeezed by mounting fixed costs and collapsed demand, and which cannot access other business support mechanisms.

Importance of securing support ahead of becoming an independent coastal state

The briefing paper makes the point that there is a very real risk that, at a point when the UK fishing industry can see on the near horizon a great opportunity for the industry as we become an independent coastal state, we could lose fishing businesses and fishers due to the short-term Covid-19 challenges.

It says that Brexit presents a unique opportunity for the UK fishing industry to control access to UK waters, to ensure UK fishermen get a fair deal on quotas, to revive coastal communities, and to grow the UK industry’s role as a world leader in sustainable fisheries management. The short-term challenges of Covid-19 cannot be allowed to erode these promised and prized opportunities, says the NFFO.

The briefing paper concludes by saying that the industry needs clear signal that it is valued. The chancellor gave a commitment that the government will ‘do what it takes’ to support businesses and workers. The fishing industry – the iconic industry which speaks to the UK’s identity as an island nation – must therefore receive support.

The NFFO has already been making the industry’s case directly to the government and DEFRA, and says it is in no doubt that this accords with government data on landings, costs, earnings and prices. Vessel owners now need to know that the sector will be supported by government, so it can survive this crisis.

The NFFO briefing paper ends by asking parliamentarians to write to the chancellor to call for an urgent support package for fisheries in England and Wales, and to hold one-to-one briefing phone calls with chief executive Barrie Deas. It also calls on Treasury officials to take urgent action to draw up plans for a bespoke support package for the fishing industry in England and Wales.