The New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA) may have been founded originally by groups of like-minded inshore fishermen from England and Wales seeking a new voice with officialdom and regulators, but its reach now stretches far beyond this.

The small team of volunteers at NUTFA provide a wealth of advice and support to the industry, particularly in areas of the country where other support is thin on the ground.

Sarah Ready, who handles welfare administration for NUTFA, and is also a solicitor and vessel owner, told FN: “Director Jerry Percy still undertakes the representative role working with officials. That becomes more important as we see greater turnover of civil servants across the various agencies governing the activities of the fishing industry, and a loss of institutional memory, but we now undertake a much more diverse array of activities supporting individual fishermen.

“Covid emphasised the isolation many inshore fishermen feel, but way before then, we were providing individual support to inshore fishermen on a wide range of serious issues. We have repeatedly found, particularly in the smaller ports where the industry is struggling the most, that fishermen facing financial issues, individual problems with regulators, or health issues that were affecting their businesses, had little or no support to turn to.

“NUTFA was formed originally as a member-funded organisation, to represent and advise members only, but has since moved away from this model. Currently working as a limited company, operating on a shoestring, it is currently changing its status to become a Community Interest Company, that will allow a greater pool of individuals to come into the support umbrella that NUTFA offers all fishermen.

“NUTFA is also developing a fisheries advice clinic webpage, based on the issues we are hearing most about from those making contact. This is a result of the work we have done with the free legal service provided by LawWorks, a registered charity that has now provided the necessary legal liability insurance needed to provide additional service and support to fishermen seeking advice.

“We also connect many of the fishermen who contact us with SAIL, the Seafarer’s Advice and Information Line, but other issues we do try and help with as NUTFA. Examples of this would be supporting fishermen with individual appeals when they were refused bass entitlements, and talking with regulators in the South West about moves to introduce 100mm mesh sizes, when many fishers had recently geared up with 90mm and 95mm nets, and were having very few bycatch issues.

“Some of the hardest work we have done is with individual owners who have suffered financially. Whilst in many cases their crew have found some relief with Covid payments, owners, particularly those who have paid themselves through dividends, have not received this type of support.

“Unfortunately, we have been helping several owners through bankruptcy proceedings. Many were owed considerable sums by restaurants and caterers for the fresh local fish they had been providing, as the restaurants had no income and were themselves in difficulty. “Other issues we have been providing individual advice on includes applications for funding. Whilst we have been successful in helping some vessel owners to access funds through the export schemes available post-Brexit, we have also seen real issues with the inflexibility of the Fisheries and Seafood Scheme (FaSS).

“Many inshore vessel owners see themselves at the back of the queue when looking for fitters or suppliers. We do see situations where a supplier is unable to deliver at short notice, due to more lucrative orders from larger fishing companies. The FaSS doesn’t allow a new supplier to be found, without a new approval, and we have been trying to work on this with the MMO.

“At the moment, our most frequent request for advice relates to the new iVMS rollout, and almost inexplicably, several incidences where the MMO has contacted vessel owners and insisted that their boats cease fishing and return to port because they are ‘fishing illegally’. This happened to us with our own boat, the Resolute, but we have had calls from several other Devon skippers in identical positions.

“The issue appears to be a lack of communication between the RSS and MMO. The MMO is seeing fishing activity at sea from boats that are fishing entirely legally, but their system tells them that the boats have failed to re-register with RSS.

“It’s unfortunate that rather than check with RSS, vessel owners are getting such calls, which are creating stress and anxiety as much as lost fishing time, when ordered to return to port to provide the paperwork requested, and it’s something NUTFA is also raising with authorities.

“These issues are particularly difficult for more isolated small-boat fishermen, who don’t have the support offered in many ports by agents, auctions, associations or bodies such as Seafood Cornwall.

“I really would urge any fishermen reading this, wherever you are, facing difficulties, to contact NUTFA. If we can’t provide direct advice or support, we can at least let you know who can. Fishing can be a lonely job – often, at sea, we are several miles from the nearest human being, a position few in the UK can really appreciate or understand.

“NUTFA can at least provide some support or advice that can help you concentrate on catching fish, safely, without additional worries or concerns.”

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. Main image credit: Natasha Milne.

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