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Pandemic threatens fishing industry in Edinburgh as catches plummet

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Saturday, August 08, 2020, 18:00 (GMT + 9)

The amount of seafood brought to shore in Edinburgh fell 87% in April and May.

The fishing industry in Edinburgh has seen a dramatic decline during the coronavirus pandemic.

The amount of seafood brought to shore in Edinburgh fell 87% in April and May, compared to a three-year average for the same period, with total sales down by £27,000 (56%).

Leith, which usually receives almost half of all fish brought ashore in Edinburgh, has seen £7,000 less in seafood sales than normal - a drop of 63%. 

Leith harbour, Scotland

Granton, which usually receives around 12 tonnes of seafood in April and May, reported no catches in either month.

Demand for certain seafoods has been particularly impacted by the closure of Scotland’s hotels and restaurants during lockdown.

Edinburgh’s whelk fishing industry, which usually brings in more than 13 tonnes of sea snails in April and May, has shrunk by 97% during lockdown.

April and May saw a collapse in demand for fish as the UK’s hospitality industry went into lockdown and major export markets closed their borders. Sales by British vessels were down by 44% compared to the same period last year, with small vessels hit particularly hard.

This followed a £27.5 million (35%) collapse in demand for British shellfish in the first three months of the year as Chinese markets entered lockdown. 

In May, as Europe gradually reopened to British exports, the quantity of British-caught fish taken abroad increased to almost three times that of last year (176%). However, much of this fish was either sold for cheap or not at all, with the result that exports increased by just over a fifth (21%).

The Netherlands made up more than half of the increased exports (61%), with the country purchasing more than twice as much British seafood as last year (104%).

This increase in exports, however, has been more than offset by the continued effects of lockdown at home. In May, domestic sales of British-caught fish were down by almost half (46%), bringing overall sales down to 60% of last year’s figures.

From April to June, the UK government provided a £10 million fund to support English fisheries, while the devolved Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh administrations made available funds of £22.5 million, £1.5 million and £500,000, respectively. 

Barrie Deas, Chief Executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), said: “As lockdown has been lifted, there has been a slow uneven and fragile recovery. Oversupply on any particular day can trigger a price collapse and there is very little resilience in our industry to deal with a second wave should it materialise.

“The government’s aid package had to be tailored to the fishing sector because we tended to fall through the gaps in blanket measures but was greatly appreciated when it arrived. It was delivered efficiently by the Marine Management Organisation.

"It will be very important to monitor trends going forward to determine whether any further interventions are required."

Authors: Ben van der Merwe and Joe Smith / edinburghlive.co.uk



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