UK fishing incomes decreased as catch volumes fell

Published on
October 9, 2020

For the third successive year, the United Kingdom fishing fleet saw lower income on smaller catches in 2019.

The U.K. fishing fleet achieved a turnover of GBP 1 billion (USD 1.3 billion, EUR 1.1 billion) in 2019, but its total income fell by 3 percent compared to the previous 12 months to GBP 980 million (USD 1.3 billion, EUR 1.1 billion) as the weight of landings fell 12 percent, finds a new analysis published by public body Seafish.

According to the “Economics of the UK Fishing Fleet 2019” report, total operating profit increased by GBP 2 million (USD 2.6 million, EUR 2.2 million) to GBP 240 million (USD 311 million, EUR 264.9 million) with a GBP 27 million (USD 35 million, EUR 29.8 million) decrease in total costs helping to offset the decrease in fishing income. Crew costs also decreased from GBP 266 million (USD 344.7 million, EUR 293.5 million) in 2018 to GBP 258 million (USD 334.3 million, EUR 284.7 million) in 2019, with Seafish surmising that it was likely the drop in fishing income reduced the amount of money available to distribute among crew.

A slight decrease in fuel price was the main driver for the reduced costs.

Overall, U.K. fishing vessels landed 620,000 metric tons (MT) of fish and shellfish in 2019. While the majority of landings were made at domestic ports, with Peterhead, Lerwick and Fraserburgh being the main landing ports by weight, some landings were made abroad, mainly in Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Ireland.

In volume terms, mackerel was the No. 1 species in 2019 with 152,000 MT, followed by herring (75,000 MT), blue whiting (61,000 MT), nephrops (35,000 MT), and haddock (34,000 MT). With regards to value, mackerel was again the most important species, generating first-sales of GBP 182 million (USD 235.8 million, EUR 200.8 million). With GBP 116 million (USD 150.3 million, EUR 128 million) nephrops was second-placed, followed by brown crab with GBP 74 million (USD 95.9 million, EUR 81.7 million), and scallops with GBP 59 million (USD 76.5 million, EUR 65.1 million).

Scotland-registered vessels landed the largest weight and value of fish and shellfish in 2019, with 384,000 MT, valued at GBP 570 million (USD 738.3 million, EUR 628.8 million). Vessels registered in England landed approximately 181,000 MT, with first-sales of GBP 326 million (USD 422.2 million, EUR 359.6 million), while vessels registered in Northern Ireland and Wales landed around 43,000 MT and 8,000 MT respectively, earning GBP 57 million (USD 73.8 million, EUR 62.9 million) and GBP 19 million (USD 24.6 million, EUR 21 million).

The analysis also notes that the average nominal prices per metric ton of all species types increased from 2017 to 2018, and that the greatest increase was for shellfish species, with an average price increase of 11 percent. From 2018 to 2019, the average prices of pelagic species continued to increase by 12 percent and prices of demersal and shellfish species decreased by 2 percent.

Seafish acknowledged that while its figures are averaged across the entire fishing industry, the picture can vary considerably for different sections of the fleet and some individual vessels will have found 2019 to be a challenging year. 

To allow this underlying data to be accessed and analyzed more easily, it has launched its new online Fleet Enquiry Tool. This includes data for fleet economic performance, landings and activity as well as showing the performance of different classes of vessel over time.

“Accurate economic data from the fishing fleet helps to inform policy decisions and improve fisheries management. We saw earlier this year how significant this data can be when the U.K. government and devolved administrations used it to inform the COVID-19 support packages they created for fishing businesses,” Seafish Chief Economist, Arina Motova, said. “We hope that this latest report and our new Fleet Enquiry Tool will be of value to government, the industry as a whole, and to individual vessel owners and skippers. While these both provide users with easy access to a large amount of data, those in industry are of course welcome to continue to contact us with specific questions or with requests for detailed enquiries and analysis.”

In 2019 there were 4,491 active fishing vessels in the U.K. fleet, approximately 100 fewer vessels than 2018. In addition there were 1,508 inactive vessels, most of them under 10 meters in length. Some 35 percent of the vessels active in 2019 were classed by Seafish as “low activity,” meaning they had annual fishing incomes under GBP 10,000 (USD 12,951, EUR 11,031).  

Photo courtesy of Seafish

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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