In a surprise announcement last week, Defra confirmed that it was putting in place an additional package of compensation and support for inshore pollack vessels impacted by the zero TAC for area VII pollack that came into effect on 1 January.

The measure, which prevents any targeted fishery, has had a particular impact on inshore handliners in the South West and the English Channel, a significant number of whom rely on the species for up to half their annual income – and more, in some cases. Many other vessels are reliant on the species on a seasonal basis – which may make them ineligible for the latest support.

For many of the affected vessels, switching to alternative fisheries, such as shellfish or bass, has been made impossible by the absence of suitable licence entitlements, as well as the difficulties of squeezing into existing fisheries where there is little room for additional vessels.

Up to £6m will be made available across the fleet, with Defra estimating, from previous catch returns, that around 50 vessels will be eligible for the compensation. The funds are not new, but will come from within the current Fisheries and Seafood Scheme.

Defra said that eligible vessel owners would be ‘directly compensated for half their income lost due to the bycatch- only pollack fishery’. It added that this ‘reflects feedback from industry as to how those fisheries can be supported to diversify, and recognises the time that they will need to do so’.

Under the compensation scheme, vessels that were reliant on pollack for at least 30% of their 2023 income will receive compensation equal to 50% of the total value of pollack landings they made in 2023 in Western Waters (area VII). Income will be verified using landings data held by the MMO.

Unusually, the announcement was made by Defra secretary of state, Steve Barclay, rather than the fisheries minister Mark Spencer.

In a statement, the secretary of state said: “I fully recognise the impact that the bycatch- only advice has had on pollack fishers in the South West, and have therefore acted to provide support to those most affected.

“The compensation scheme will support these hardworking fishers and provide them with an opportunity to move away from a reliance on the pollack fishery as we work to further support the recovery of the stock.”

The announcement comes on top of earlier announcements in support of the sector, which included the chance to participate, and be paid for, additional sampling to support enhanced understanding of the stock dynamics and distribution. This was welcomed by the industry, but was widely seen as insufficient, on its own, to maintain the viability of pollack vessels.

The charter angling fishery targeting pollack continues unaffected by the zero TAC, with many anglers still landing their catches, which are unrestricted. The fish here was caught off Falmouth last week, and was posted on social media.

Mandy Wolfe, CEO of Lyme Bay Fisherman’s CIC, gave the announcement a warm welcome, saying: “It’s great to see Defra and the minister take this decision – I am grateful for his intervention. I hope the process that follows will be swift so payments can reach those affected as soon as possible and relieve some of their financial stress.”

Edward Baker, CEO of the Plymouth Fishing and Seafood Association, who wrote an open letter to the Defra minister just ahead of the announcement, asking for an increased support package, told FN: “There are mixed feelings from the Plymouth fleet. For some this is a welcome reprieve, but others are still more frustrated.

“The use of 2023 as the reference year means that some vessels that were out of the water due to MCA assessments or refit did not catch anywhere near as much pollack as they normally would. An average over the past two to five years would have been more appropriate.

“The government’s focus needs to be more on collecting the data to make a proper assessment of the pollack biomass so that the fishery can be managed effectively in future.”

The financial support scheme will be administered by the MMO, which will get in contact directly with eligible vessel owners over the coming weeks to provide further details on how they can access the compensation.

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

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