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First open forum for Fisheries APPG shines light on fishing recruitment concerns

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Thursday, May 16, 2019, 01:40 (GMT + 9)

Last Tuesday saw the first public event of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fisheries, a cross-party body focused on issues affecting the fishing and seafood sector in the UK.  The open parliamentary seminar, entitled Recruitment into Fishing Careers, brought Parliamentarians and representatives from across the sector to Westminster to debate how fishing can attract and retain new talent to the catch sector

The fishing workforce is aging: with the average age of a deckhand now 35 and skippers averaging 48 years old. This, combined with the lack of young people entering fishing, represents a major problem facing the sustainability of the UK fleet. Academics, Parliamentarians and representatives from across the fishing industry joined forces to work out what the biggest barriers to recruitment are, and how they might be overcome.

The group identified that while many challenges face recruitment into the sector, the greatest is how the industry is viewed by young people.

Shellfisherman John Balls, Chair of the North Devon Fishermen’s Association, and speaker at the event, believes that “the lack of willing young people” is the greatest challenge. The same view is held by those in the large-scale fleet. Mike Park, CEO of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association and another of the panellists considers “the biggest obstacle [to be] the lack of vision [of] fishing as a career at the pre-leaving-school stage.”

There was agreement from panellists that efforts should focus around proactive education to spark new interest in the industry for future generations. “The most positive outcome [of the event] was that everyone agreed that fishing should be shown in schools to be a rewarding career and should be promoted as such,” Balls added.

A range of views came from the floor including options for gaining transferable skills in the fishing industry and where these might come from, including the supply chain. It was asserted from the audience that young people prioritise gathering transferable skills, particularly given that it may be common across sectors to change jobs every 3-5 years. A challenge for fishing is how to recognise and adapt to this.

Other solutions were discussed in combination. Professionalising the sector, through the provision of state-of-the-art technology and safety measures could help transform the image of fishing. Mike Park underscored the need for fishing to be seen to offer secure, safe jobs: “the industry should have a commitment to put in structures that create a sound platform for employment”, adding: “the meeting was very useful for getting the message out in the open with regards to the hurdles we currently face.”

APPG Co-Chair Sheryll Murray commented on the real diversity of attendees present: “It was good to see such a variety of people from the industry. They clearly cared so much about the future of fisheries in the UK and I would like to thank them for attending,” said APPG Co-Chair Sheryll Murray MP, who chaired the discussion. Reflecting on the meeting, she said “we can now take forward the many good ideas and points and make sure they form part of the ongoing discussions across the sector as we move forward as an independent coastal State.”

Future meetings are planned on seafood careers on land and at sea, and marketing and certification, with organisers hoping to attract a similar range of engaged voices from across the sector.

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