Brexit a threat to UK’s newest, largest trawler

Published on
April 25, 2019

The investment in the United Kingdom’s largest freezer trawler and the commitment shown to the country’s fishing industry has been commended by Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne.

At its naming ceremony in Greenwich, London, The Princess Royal said the arrival of the new Kirkella H7, the biggest trawler in the U.K. fleet, was “a really important occasion for fisheries in the U.K.” and that the Hull-based vessel represented an “enormous investment” in the country’s fishing industry by owner/operator UK Fisheries Ltd.

“Going to sea nowadays is just as difficult as it ever was. It’s a demanding profession,” she said. “These are long distances in difficult waters; it’s a difficult business and it seems only fair to try and improve the quality of the surroundings in which they [crew] work and this ship has done that. But it also improves the quality of what the customer gets at the end of the day. And as we do still fortunately enjoy fish and chips, and a lot of what comes out of Kirkella will end up as fish and chips – that’s good news."

With almost all of Kirkella’s catch going to the U.K. fish-and-chip trade, it’s estimated that the vessel provides around 7.5 percent of the whitefish eaten as part of the national dish. However, as the vessel is the last remaining trawler in the British distant-water fishing fleet, the likelihood is that if the fish being bought is caught by a U.K. boat and landed in a U.K. port, then it originated from the Kirkella.

“We forget because they [fishing boats] are out of sight and out of mind just how much effort goes into producing what we enjoy, and this ship and the investment in her says a lot about that,” Princess Anne said. “My congratulations to the owners for their investment in fishing and we wish her [Kirkella] well.”

Meanwhile, the vessel’s owners have been underlining the importance of having post-Brexit deals in place that protect the interests of the distant-water fishing fleet and allow it to continue to fish in waters around the northern North Atlantic.

Kirkella’s main fishing areas are the Barents Sea, waters around Greenland, the Northwest Atlantic and the Norwegian Sea. The vessel is currently able to fish in these areas due to European Union fisheries agreements that allow these nations to sell the catch from their own waters in the U.K. market. 

Sir Barney White-Spunner, chairman of the advisory committee at UK Fisheries Ltd., has said that if the United Kingdom doesn’t strike the right balance of mutually beneficial bilateral trade and fisheries access deals with partner nations once it leaves the E.U., then the vessel will be forced to seek other waters far from its home port of Hull.

He believes the consequences of this would be profound, with Britain’s centuries-long history of distant-water fishing potentially coming to an end, while the fishermen that make up the crew and provide supporting services to Kirkella will have their livelihoods put at risk. 

Built in Norway in 2018, the 81-meter vessel catches around 12 metric tons (MT) of fish per haul. With 30 crew onboard and automated processing, the first fish reach the on-board freezers 40 minutes after being caught. 

Each trawl lasts between 30 minutes and six hours. The nets are hauled onboard from the stern by powerful 2,000-meter cable winches and the catch is electronically stunned and conveyed to the onboard factory. 

Fish are filleted, frozen, and packaged in a continuous mechanized process, while the guts, skins, and heads are stored separately and processed into fishmeal, used in animal feeds, and as fertilizer. 

Kirkella can store up to 780 MT of fish fillets at negative 28 degrees Celsius in onboard cold storage.

The Kirkella name is rooted in U.K. fishing history. The first of now seven vessels was built in Selby in 1936.

UK Fisheries Ltd. also operates the fresh fish trawler Farnella.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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