Fishers back direct action over fuel crisis –

Fishers back direct action over fuel crisis Published:  27 May, 2008

Representatives agreed to demand a meeting with Gordon Brown

AN emergency meeting of around 80 representatives from the UK fishing industry, held in Inverness, has decided to begin a series of co-ordinated days of action at ports around Britain, to highlight the desperate plight of the industry caused by high fuel prices.

One representative said the industry’s back was to the wall and there was nowhere else for the industry to go.

Proposed action may initially stop short of blockading ports but that has not been ruled out in future. The timetable and activities for the days of action will be decided over the next few days and they will take account of local port practices throughout the UK.

Discussions are also being held with the industry in Ireland and in France, Belgium and Spain, to begin coordinated action throughout Europe.

John MacAlister, chair of the Mallaig and North-west Fishermen’s Association,(MNWFA,) who chaired the meeting, said: “The mood is one of anger and desperation. Once again, little is being done to help our industry in our time of need. We have met politicians at EU, UK and Scottish level and whilst they offered sympathy they could offer little in the way of industry-sustaining, short term support. The time for speaking is over and we now need action.”

Hector Stewart, a fish processor in Uist said: “We receive the same price for top quality lobster and scallops as we did 15 years ago but our operating costs have nearly doubled in the last 6 months.

“It is very difficult for the industry to survive. People present didn’t feel a blockade of ports was appropriate at this time, but that might be considered if our campaign gets no response.

“We are well aware of the problems this could cause in west coast ferry ports for example and we don’t want to go down that path, but if the industry is to survive we must see some action from Government.”

A committee was formed to represent interests throughout the UK to co-ordinate the days of action, and French and Belgian representatives have already pledged to join in the co-ordinated actions.

Representatives also agreed to demand a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and First Minister Alex Salmond to make clear the stark reality of total meltdown facing the industry. Some of the representatives felt that the message was not getting through to the people at the top of both Governments.

Hector Stewart said: “There is strong support for the fishermen’s case through the UK, and I don’t think it would go down well if the two political leaders refused to meet us and listen to the industry.

“A lot of fishermen are close to tying up the boats and leaving the industry. They face the same food bills and heating bills as everyone else, but on top of that, they can’t increase the price of their product, and every week, fuel prices are rising.”

John Hermse, secretary of MNWFA said: “If we’re not listened to on this initial co-ordinated day of action, the action will be escalated and become more robust.

“We are seeking support to make this an EU-wide action campaign. We don’t want to take action that will alienate the public, and we are keen to localise action to each port.

“We can do things like not filling in log sheets, not using vessel monitoring systems and other actions that will not affect the public. We haven’t had anything realistic from Government so far, and we need to speak to the Prime Minister and First Minister to see what can be achieved realistically.”

Mr Hermse said that the industry had been left with no choice.

He added: “The cost of fuel has risen in the past five months by 50%. Since 2004 it’s risen by 198% and yet we’re getting the same prices as we were getting 20 years ago.

“Approximately 40% of the fleet are not viable now. Vessels and businesses are on the verge of bankruptcy and boats are already tying up due to high operating costs. This will escalate in the next few months. We need to look at short term help such as accessing the Government’s emergency fund, tax breaks for the industry, minimising third country shellfish imports and direct fuel-focused application of de-minimus aid.”

Mr Hermse said the reality for many in the industry was stark. He added: “This is backs against the wall survival. We have nothing left and nowhere else to go. Everyone at the meeting wanted to take a robust stance. Speaking to the politicians has got us nowhere. We need some direct action to push our cause.” is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.