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Friday, 31 May 2013

This year's colder-than-average winter weather hits inshore fishing hard

Inshore fishermen have suffered their worst start to the year in living memory with some catches down by 50% as the atrocious weather continues to take its toll. Prolonged periods of strong winds and gales, along with unseasonably cold sea temperatures, have left many fishermen counting the cost of an appalling catch. 

Nick Prust, of the South West Inshore Fishing Association, said it was heartbreaking. "It's really hard for everyone," he said. "It just hasn't kicked off at all this year."

Mr Prust, who has boats fishing out of South Devon and Appledore, said it was equally bad on either coast. "I would say we are 50% down on crabs and 40% down on lobsters. It's the worst I can remember in a long time," he said. Mr Prust said the water was colder than usual for the time of year and though only a few degrees it made a difference to their catches of shellfish. "The weather isn't going to improve overnight. "What we need is a few weeks of good, hot weather to bring the temperatures up, but I can't see that happening. "It's hard for all fishermen and I can't see that improving just at the moment." 

Dave Muirhead, secretary of the South West Handliners Fishing Association, said the situation was dire. "The first five months of this year have probably been the worst for the Cornish inshore fishing fleet in living memory. "There have been prolonged periods of strong winds and gales. 

Many of these have been really cold winds from the north east and east which have proved two old sayings 'when the wind is in the North the skilful fisher goes not forth' and 'when the wind is in the East then the fishing's at its least'." He said that the small inshore boats have always been able to rely on the spring run of mackerel. Under normal circumstances the fish could be guaranteed to arrive by the middle of April. However, by the end of May the shoals had still not arrived and hand line boats were going out only to return with a few kilos of fish at best. 

Mr Muirhead, who lives on the Lizard in Cornwall, said the terrible situation had forced some fishermen to call it a day – which itself had profound implications across the whole of the region's fishing community. "Several skippers in the inshore fleet have had to put their boats on the market," he said. "All in all, this is a very depressing situation for our inshore fleet which is very important to the local economy in the small coves and harbours around the Cornish coast. "In addition to the income from fishing itself it is estimated that each fisherman at sea creates four jobs ashore. "There are many small businesses processing and selling fish and shellfish which rely on the inshore fleet for supplies." 

Paul Trebilcock, chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, which counts large and small vessels in its membership, said it had been a tough year for the latter. "There's no question there has been an effect for the inshore fleet," he said. "The wind has been from the east or north east and the temperature of the water is still lower than you would expect. As a result, shellfish doesn't seem to have been moving and some of the fish has been late." 

Mr Trebilcock said high swells and gales had caused turbulence, churning up the seabed bringing a lot of seaweed ashore. "There's a lot of talk about what impacts on the marine environment, but this winter has shown that nature has the number one impact," he said. "It makes fishermen feel very small in the effect they have." The conditions faced by inshore vessels had not been replicated by the bigger boats, which fish a long way from land, he said. 

Though conditions had frequently "not been comfortable", trawlers had been able to bring in healthy catches of fish such as pollack and hake, he added. "At times they may not have been able to fish and have been dodging weather, but then they can wait it out and get back to the job," he said. 

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