Rising diesel prices could soon prevent UK fishing crews from setting sail as it becomes too expensive to fish, boat captains warned over the weekend.
Trawlers and commercial fishers are now struggling under the weight of price hikes that in many cases mean tens of thousands of extra pounds of diesel for a fishing trip resulting in less than minimum take home pay. It is a blow to an already struggling industry which was hoping for better times after Britain left the European Union.
According to Barry Young, managing director of Brixham Trawler Agents, the cost of the type of diesel used by fishing boats has more than doubled in the past eight months and an increase of just 7p more would make some trawlers run less profitable. runs the fish market in Brixham, Devon, England’s most valuable fishing port.
“It’s very fragile at the moment,” he said. “It wouldn’t take much to push him over the edge. Our fuel price [for red diesel] is £1.08. If it goes up to £1.15 the boats will stop. So another seven pence and it’s over.
Brixham’s biggest trawler, the Julie of Ladram, returned to port after seven days at sea earlier this month and nearly lost. The captain, Sean Beck, won just £440 for a week’s work, the equivalent of £2.60 an hour to be responsible for the ship and crew around the clock. is a stressful time for my family. And it’s stressful at sea, the fishing isn’t always great. As a skipper, it’s a big responsibility to get the boat paid and to make sure everyone gets paid.
The crews work on a share of the profits – owner Julie de Ladram gets 60%, and as captain Beck gets 10.5%. There is a sliding scale for the crew, down to a minimum of about 4%.
Vessels offload their catch at Brixham Fish Market. The fish is sold at auction for a commission. The port takes a share, and there are fees for boat rental, food, and other expenses. But fuel is the main cost.
This makes Ladram’s Julie the coal mine canary of Brixham’s fishing industry. It has the highest fuel costs as it tows heavy gear along the seabed to catch flatfish: species like plaice, sole and anglerfish. Last week Beck returned with one of his best catches of the year, fetching £87,000 at auction. But the boat needs 40,000 liters of diesel, so the cost has gone from around £20,000 per trip to £45,000.
“We leave wondering if we’re going to get paid or not,” Beck said. “But I am very aware that we are luckier than some people.” He had a good salary until the fuel crisis. “Some people are really going to have trouble eating or keeping themselves warm.” If boats like the Julie stop fishing, it means welders, fish processors, forklift drivers and restaurants will have less business.
Young said the only thing saving the industry was customers paying record sums for fish.
“The prices are very, very good,” he said. “We are very fortunate to have the support of buyers across the UK and Europe who are paying a high price for the fish, making it viable to go to sea.
“They always come out, but reluctantly. They just go out to pay bills, mortgages and loans that still need to be paid, even if they don’t get a salary.
Beck said journeys now take longer, which also increases fuel costs. “They used to say you would do three days to cover your costs and three days to make a profit. Now you have seven days to cover your costs.
The high costs aren’t just hitting trawlers and commercial fishermen – anglers and pleasure craft are also feeling the pinch, with some tourists canceling bookings after learning of price increases to cover fuel.
The strain is on the mental health of fishermen, according to Sarah Ready of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (Nutfa), which represents those who fish in boats under 10 meters. She runs a hotline for people in the industry and handles two cases of bankruptcy, debts and other issues.
“I don’t think I’ve seen the mental health of fishermen as bad as it is right now,” she said. A huge expansion of bureaucracy means many are overwhelmed with paperwork, she said, and many have been caught off guard.
“There is a lot of depression within the fishing communities. Often when people suffer from depression and mental health issues, it also impacts the family and it escalates into family breakdown. Often, you are not only faced with debt, but with all sorts of other problems.
Jerry Percy, Managing Director of Nutfa, said: “We are in an existential crisis when it comes to the artisanal fleet. Right now we are living on a knife edge as we have incredibly high fuel prices and no sign of a government fuel subsidy.