UK fishing industry’s earnings fall, catch volumes increase

Published on
October 1, 2021
the U.K. fishing fleet achieved a turnover of GBP 831 million (USD 1.1 billion, EUR 973.1 million) in 2020.

Landing 623,000 metric tons (MT) of fish and shellfish into domestic and overseas ports, the U.K. fishing fleet achieved a turnover of GBP 831 million (USD 1.1 billion, EUR 973.1 million) in 2020. While the catch volume was slightly higher than in 2019, the catch value fell 16 percent, finds a new analysis published by the country’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

MMO’s “UK Sea Fisheries Statistics 2020” report determined that while multiple factors impact fishing, and landings tend to fluctuate considerably over time, the biggest impact on sea fisheries in 2020 was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which affected the British fishing sector from March 2020 onwards.

At the same time, although the quantity of landings last year remained similar to 2019, the landings of lower-value pelagic species increased by 14 percent and landings of higher-value shellfish species decreased by 18 percent.

The United Kingdom’s 2020 pelagic catch totaled 355,000 MT, representing 57 percent of the overall volume. With 148,000 MT, the demersal catch accounted for 24 percent of the total, while 121,000 MT of shellfish represented the remaining 19 percent.

MMO’s report found that while pelagic species made up over half of total U.K. landings in quantity, they generated less money than the fleet’s demersal landings. Shellfish landings, meanwhile, made only GBP 20 million (USD 27.4 million, EUR 23.4 million) less than the pelagics.

It also notes that the value of pelagic landings between 2019 and 2020 increased by 14 percent, in line with the same increase in the quantity of landings. These increases were driven by an increase in quotas for key pelagic species. In particular, the U.K. west coast mackerel quota limit increased by 41 percent or 63,000 MT between 2019 and 2020.

The U.K. fleet catches more mackerel than any other species – over 200,000 MT in 2020 – one-third of the total U.K. catch.

The quantity of demersal landings decreased by 10 percent, while the value of that catch decreased by 17 percent. Shellfish landings decreased by 18 percent, while their value decreased by 33 percent. The price per ton fetched for shellfish species decreased considerably more than demersal and pelagic species – down 20 percent compared to 8 percent for both demersal and pelagic species.

Nephrops, crabs and scallops accounted for 60 percent of U.K. shellfish landings in 2020.

According to the MMO, the shellfish sector was the most severely hit because these species tend to be landed and sold fresh for use in the hospitality sector in the United Kingdom and abroad. Therefore, the demand for shellfish dropped dramatically as lockdowns were imposed across the United Kingdom and European Union.

Although the demersal sector, and to a lesser extent the pelagic sector, were impacted by the pandemic, they were more resilient as key demersal and pelagic species are primarily for consumption in the home, the government organization said. Additionally, demersal and pelagic species are often landed and sold frozen so can weather market shocks better as businesses can wait before selling their catch.

The analysis also confirmed that the United Kingdom continued to be a net importer of seafood in 2020, bringing in 672,000 MT of products with a value in excess of GBP 3.2 billion (USD 4.4 billion, EUR 3.7 billion). The country exported 423,000 MT of seafood. However, compared to 2019, imports were down by 7 percent, leading to narrowing of the crude trade gap which decreased by 8 percent. Demersal and pelagic fish accounted for 85 percent of fish imports into the U.K. market by weight. The country imports more tuna and exports more salmon than any other species. Shellfish accounted for the remaining 15 percent of imports. In terms of value, shellfish imports made up a slightly higher percentage at 23 percent. Demersal and pelagic fish accounted for 83 percent of U.K. fish exports by weight with shellfish accounting for 17 percent.

The MMO also highlighted that the number of U.K. fishing vessels has fallen almost 50 percent over the past three decades, from over 11,000 vessels to below 6,000. U.K. vessel numbers fell by 128 last year.

Compared to 2019, the number of total U.K. fishers decreased by 6 percent last year, amounting to about 700 fewer jobs in the catching sector. The decrease was likely driven by the pandemic, which has had a large impact on smaller vessel activities, the MMO determined.

Photo courtesy of Fencewood Studio/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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