United Kingdom

Top chef warns British fishermen face a 'perfect storm' this winter

Britain's fishing fleet faces a ‘perfect storm’ this winter as demand from beleaguered restaurants and pubs plummets, chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall warned last night.

The new wave of Covid restrictions – including the 10pm curfew and bans on mixing with other households – has slashed orders of fish caught by the 4,000 boats in the UK’s small-scale coastal fleet.

These boats, which are typically under 30ft in length and are often owned by family businesses, supply premium fish such as turbot, bass and Dover sole, as well as crabs and lobsters, for restaurants across the UK and Europe.

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Fishermen and women are used to experiencing hard times but I worry that they face a perfect storm this winter and many could go out of business.’

Britain's fishing fleet faces a ‘perfect storm’ this winter as demand from beleaguered restaurants and pubs plummets, chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (pictured) warned last night

His remarks come as UK Brexit negotiators are understood to have proposed a ‘sweetheart deal’ to French President Emmanuel Macron, under which the UK would take back control of its fishing waters on January 1, 2021 – but the French will be allowed to catch up to their current quotas until after the 2022 presidential election.

In return, Mr Macron would relax his demands for the UK to follow EU rules on state subsidies for businesses. 

The aim is to protect the President from electoral damage at the hands of the powerful French fishing lobby.

His remarks come as UK Brexit negotiators are understood to have proposed a ‘sweetheart deal’ to French President Emmanuel Macron, under which the UK would take back control of its fishing waters on January 1, 2021 – but the French will be allowed to catch up to their current quotas until after the 2022 presidential election 

After 2022, the UK says EU countries will have to request access to UK waters and set quotas on an annual basis. The EU is demanding a review every five years.

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall added: ‘As more pubs and restaurants are closing or are restricted in their trade, fish prices start to drop rapidly. 

'Britain’s fleet of inshore fishing boats is a vital part of the fabric of this country and we must ensure these small family businesses... survive this incredibly difficult time.’

This map shows the extent of the UK's Exclusive Economic Zone - the waters Britain will take back control of after Brexit. At the moment the EEZ of every EU member state is merged into one large zone which can be accessed by fishermen from all over Europe

Industry sources say the fleet survived the first lockdown thanks to a jump in sales by fishmongers and via home deliveries. 

But the new round of Covid restrictions and economic uncertainty is having a devastating impact on prices. The price of a small bass has fallen from £9 per kilogram to £6 per kg.

In March, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, Rodney Anderson, a former director of fisheries at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Terri Portman, a marine consultant, set up Call4Fish, a website where people can order seafood deliveries to their home.

‘The British public kept our fishermen going,’ Mr Anderson said. ‘But as demand falls again, there are skippers along the coastline worried about how they are going to keep their businesses afloat.’

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