Crews throughout the UK had decided not to go fishing at all in recent months, as the cost of fuel would make it tricky just to break even, reported scampi supplier Whitby Seafoods.
The situation had worsened following the start of the war in Ukraine and could ultimately lead to shortages of some products, it added.
“We have seen people sell their boats,” said Laura Whittle, sales and marketing director at Whitby. “Landings are a lot fewer and we have seen people talk about doing guard duty [where fishing boats guard oil rigs] instead of fishing, and a lot are talking about retiring licenses.”
Whitby has been relying on its catch from last summer to service its supermarket contracts. However, stores are now running low on supply and the business is starting to feel the effects of fewer landings, Whittle warned.
According to analysis by the supplier, the price of diesel has risen by two-and-a-half times the quay rate since 2020. While other fuels have received a tax reduction, red diesel – used by most fishing boats and trawlers – has not seen a cap or reduced rate.
“Fuel is going to stay high and the only thing a responsible supplier can do is pay more,” Whittle said. “My fear is that if we are not willing to pay the right price, we will lose the industry.”
But despite these challenges, she pointed out supermarkets had so far not been willing to pay a higher price for scampi. And while she worried about losing business, the brand felt it did “not have a choice” but to pay its fishing crews more.
“It is also about supporting the British fishing effort… we just have to try and do the right thing by our fishermen,” she added.
Scampi is not the only catch being affected, as trawlers and vessels of all kind are feeling the impact, according to Andrew Crook, president of the National Federation of Fish Friers.
“Some of the domestic fleet in Scotland are not going out fishing because it is too expensive with the cost of fuel,” said Crook. “They are not getting the high prices, which is crazy. Maybe the processors and the fish merchants might be getting it but the trawlermen are saying they are not.”
It comes as new research from industry body Seafish, published in the seafood sector press last week, revealed in a worst case scenario, up to two-thirds of the fleet might not be able to cover operational costs. And even more optimistic models suggested half of the UK fleet’s operating profit could drop to negative values.
“There are, of course, immediate business, personal, and community consequences when vessels are forced to tie-up in this way. Over and above these however it is important to recognise that without landings of fish, the whole supply chain cannot function,” said the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation (NFFO) in a letter to fisheries minister, Victoria Prentis, MP.
“It is imperative that the government finds a way to support the sector through the second crisis in as many years,” it added.