North-east fishing fleet's profits impacted by pandemic

Economic performance estimates for 2020 show the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the fishing industry.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 8:50 am
Updated Thursday, 24th June 2021, 8:51 am
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on landings at many UK ports, including Fraserburgh.
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on landings at many UK ports, including Fraserburgh.

The total operating profit of the UK fishing fleet fell by almost a fifth in 2020.

And with Fraserburgh and Peterhead among the main ports for landings in the UK, this fall in profits is bound to have had an impact of the local fishing community.

Data published by Seafish, the public body that supports the UK seafood industry, shows that operating profit fell by 19 per cent from £264 million in 2019 to £214 million in 2020.

Turnover, which had been above the £1 billion mark for the previous three years, fell to £843 million. This is a 17 per cent reduction.

These totals include £18.6 million of grants paid directly to fishing businesses by the UK Government and devolved administrations. While this support helped some businesses to keep cash flows positive, many have reduced their fishing effort or changed the species they target to stay in business.

The total weight landed by the fleet was around 620 thousand tonnes. This was close to the 2019 figure. However, fishing income fell from £990 million in 2019 to £806 million in 2020. This was due to lower levels of fishing activity and lower fish prices.

Crew costs decreased on the previous year, falling from £272 million to £216 million. With many workers on fishing vessels paid through crew share agreements this drop likely means a reduction in their incomes.

And the total number of active fishing vessels fell from 4,548 in 2019 to 4,301 in 2020. More vessel operators licensed to fish opted to remain in the port in 2020. The number of inactive vessels grew to 1,692, a 16 per cent increase on 2019.

Arina Motova, Chief Economist at Seafish said: “The global pandemic has affected every part of our lives so it’s no surprise that the UK fishing fleet had a challenging year in 2020. The impacts can be seen in the figures , which show overall operating profits falling by 19 per cent.

“These are top-line average figures and different parts of the fleet have had different experiences. For example, vessels normally supplying shellfish into hospitality markets were acutely affected. Overall nephrops trawlers and scallop dredgers saw fishing income drop by 39 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019. Elsewhere those catching mackerel enjoyed higher quotas and relatively stable average prices.

“2020 has again shown the resilience of the UK fishing fleet in extremely challenging times. Most vessels could not avoid tying up or reducing their activity for a period. That said, adaptation, diversification and collaboration have kept vessels fishing and the seafood supply chain moving.

“While it’s too early to understand the full impact of the pandemic on the economic performance of fishing vessels, these figures do give us an early indication of the situation. We expect to see more detail as company accounts are filed next spring.”

The figures are based on preliminary landings data and the results of Seafish’s 2020 survey of the UK fishing fleet.

The full 2020 Economics of the UK Fishing Fleet report will be published in the coming weeks, and the 2021 survey of the UK’s fishing fleet will get underway in July.