Fishermen warn second Covid wave could sink them without public and state help

An uncertain Christmas and the closure of restaurants has seen year-on-year prices plummet by 30%, according to one shellfish merchant.

Coronavirus fishing
Coronavirus fishing

Fishermen have warned businesses could be sunk due to the growing coronavirus economic shutdown and uncertainty over whether Christmas celebrations will go ahead.

Declining sales of fish and high-end shellfish, such as lobster and crab, are being blamed on restaurants closing at a “terrifying rate” because of the increased social restrictions being placed on large swathes of the country in a bid to stem the rise of Covid-19 infections.

With questions around whether families will be allowed to mix at Christmas and consumers tightening their belts following a tough year, orders and prices during what is usually a buoyant festive season are “massively” down, according to members of the catching sector.

Representatives of the fishing industry – which has been promised an uplift in fortunes after Brexit is realised next year – are warning that if sales do not pick up and there is no Government support, then skippers could face having to tie up their boats for good this winter.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced calls this week to announce whether measures will be lifted to allow families to celebrate Christmas after one police and crime commissioner said the current guidelines meant officers would have to break up gatherings on December 25.

As of Friday, almost nine million people will be living under the strictest alert level in England where mixing between households is banned indoors and in private gardens, while even the lowest restrictions in Tier 1 areas prevent groups of more than six from meeting up.

Rodney Anderson, a former director of fisheries at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), is a co-founder of Call4Fish, a campaign which has looked to ensure diners can continue to access a supply of fresh produce during the coronavirus crisis.

Coronavirus Christmas
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to announce whether Covid restrictions will still be in place at Christmas (Henry Nicholls/PA)

He praised shoppers for their “unprecedented” support in ensuring British fleets had income during the national lockdown and has called for further assistance during the second wave.

“It is difficult to see without that public support once again rising up how many of these businesses will keep going to Christmas,” he told PA news agency.

Call4Fish is set to launch its campaign “Spread Christmas cheer, give fish this year” by setting up a gift service in an attempt to fill in for the loss of restaurant and party orders.

Catherine Spencer, chief executive of charity Seafarers UK, said ministers could not allow a repeat of the situation in the spring where many fishermen were “left … without any form of” financial support.

She warned: “It is difficult to see how some fishers will survive a locked-down Covid winter without urgent Government intervention to put in place a safety net.”

With much of Europe under some form of lockdown or increased social restrictions, fishermen have also complained of a reduction in export opportunities as well as domestic demand.

Graham Flannigan, general manager at Berwick Shellfish Company in Northumberland, told PA: “In October we would normally see the lobster market prepare to place Christmas orders to pre-book stock but this hasn’t happened at all.

“Restaurants are closing at a terrifying rate and people who are still in work are very cautious with what money they have to spend.

“Over the last nine months we have seen a massive drop on demand both in the UK and throughout France and Spain. Prices of live lobsters have dropped as much as 30% compared to this period last year, sending markets into a downward spiral.”

Plymouth-based crabber Brain Tapper said the impact of Covid on his operation’s finances meant he feared for the future of his family-run outfit.

“It’s been a hard year and we don’t have the reserves we usually have to get us through the winter,” he said.

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