'Mr Fish' joins Yorkshire and Humber Seafood Group – Fishupdate.com

‘Mr Fish’ joins Yorkshire and Humber Seafood Group Published:  07 March, 2007

Austin Mitchell

AFTER 30 years as MP for Grimsby, Austin Mitchell, the man affectionately known as ‘Mr Fish,’ has taken on a new challenge, the chairmanship of the Yorkshire and Humber Seafood Group (YHSG), an enterprise charged with strengthening the role of the sector in the region.

Mr Mitchell takes over the helm from Nigel Atkins, who is chief executive of UK Fisheries, and will work alongside recently-appointed project manager Carl James, to tackle head-on the challenges facing the industry as it negotiates current difficulties on both the white fish and shellfish fronts. And the new team is determined to not only face up to the hurdles ahead but to overcome them.

The new chairman accepts that, in spite of a better year in terms of market prices, the industry is struggling financially and has had to face cuts in days at sea and in catches.

But he is adamant he can help ensure the YHSG makes progress. “We need to sustain a viable fishing industry in the ports to underpin on-shore provisions,” he says. “Grants are available to improve the business and we have to ensure they are fairly distributed among different ports both along the coast and the Humber and inland. In that way the whole industry can move forward.”

He has urged all sides of the industry, the catchers, the processors and those who market the products, to ensure they pull together for the good of the sector as a whole. And he has pledged support for the likes of the North Sea Regional Advisory Council and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations. “We have to ensure that there is support for fishing to carry on in the face of the present difficulties,” he says.

Mr Mitchell has a message too for the EU, which he says is too much in the grip of the conservationists when it should be paying more attention to the needs of the producers. “It has clearly got responsibilities towards fish stocks but its position on cod has become rigidified because it has become a touchstone issue for conservation. And that means it’s far less flexible, particularly on other species that are caught with cod.

“So it’s a question of voicing the needs of the whole industry. And that means marketing and processing as well as catching and all working together to put a united view that a reduction in catching is also a reduction of the effectiveness of the industry.”

The new chairman sees his role as a vital one, and accepts it as a challenge, but says he is determined all sectors of the industry – particularly catchers and processors – will pull together and has pledged that YHSG will work towards that end. “We have to hold a balance because I think those two sides need to work together and we can’t neglect either one or the other. We are trying to achieve a situation of greater harmony between the two and the marketing people.”

His appointment has been welcomed by both the man he succeeds, Nigel Atkins and YHSG’s chief executive Carl James.

Mr James said he was confident Mr Mitchell would build on the hard work of the man he has succeeded. “Having a man with his knowledge and expertise on board is a wonderful opportunity for the group.”

And Mr Atkins, who has been chairman of the group since its inception, added: “Austin Mitchell is an excellent choice. When I decided to stand down I was charged with looking at potential replacements who were independent of the industry. Austin was in my mind from the outset. I am pleased that when I approached him he responded in an enthusiastic manner. He has supported the group from its early days, his experience of the fishing industry is unrivalled and he has never stinted in his endeavours to promote it in all its forms.”

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