A staggering £36 million worth of fish has been landed in Brixham during 2019, again making it the most valuable fishing port in England.
Figures published this week by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) showed that Brixham was the nation’s number one in 2019. Only Newlyn in Cornwall landed more in terms of tonnage, mainly because of the success of the Cornish sardine fishery that yielded more than 4,000 tonnes.
Speaking to devonlive.com, Mr Jim Portus, chief executive of the South Western Fish Producer Organisation said said Brixham was ‘alive and kicking’ despite the double jeopardy of Covid-19 and Brexit, and had seen landings of £8.6m worth of Dover sole, another £8.6m worth of cuttlefish and £5.3m worth of scallops.
Cuttlefish, scallops and plaice represented the port’s biggest catches in 2019.
Not shown in the statistics are the landings of highly-prized brown crabs that are the lifeblood of Salcombe and Kingswear. Mr Portus said around 3,000 tonnes earning £7m are landed each year in the South Hams.
Mr Portus welcomed the figures but warned: “The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 will have tested to the limit the resilience of fishing communities.
“Much of the production of cuttlefish, scallops, crabs and prime flatfish species sole and plaice is exported to the Continent and further afield.
“Exports of crabs to China were halted in the early New Year as the coronavirus caused widespread travel and business restrictions.
“As hotels and restaurants closed their doors, so the flow of seafood to our valued customers slowed to a trickle.”
He also welcomed the government’s Covid-19 support package the Fisheries Response Fund which had been rolled out to the fishing and seafood sectors but, he said: “As with all schemes there were cracks through which some businesses fell.”
Domestic consumption of UK-caught and landed fish had risen, and the re-opening of bars and restaurants had also helped but trawlers targeting Dover sole and plaice are down on 2019 by around 10 per cent, while others such as crabs and scallops are down by as much as 50 per cent.
“The uncertainty of the impacts of new measures will test businesses further in the coming weeks,” said Mr Portus.
“The winter months are often bumper times, with cuttlefish being the regular ‘Black Gold’ of Brixham for the past 20 years. If that market fails to bounce back, there may be some real and deep economic hardship.”
Mr Portus said that Brexit negotiations, in which fishing played a major part, had brought more uncertainty to the industry.
“We have been told on very many occasions that fishing will not be sacrificed on the altar of a trade deal, as it was in 1971,” said Mr Portus.
“This time we are heading for the door of EU exit and our status as an independent coastal state must not be fettered by being shackled to the terms of the Common Fisheries Policy that for decades has put our fishermen at such disadvantage.
“I remain hopeful and optimistic that the outcome in just a few weeks will be for the great benefit of the UK and will put UK fishermen on a sound footing for re-building our fleets and ports to the vibrancy they once enjoyed.
“These have been tremendously febrile times under the shadow of Covid-19 and through the negotiations of Brexit, but Brixham is alive, kicking and preparing to thrive.
“There are some wonderful plans already being considered for expansion and I for one am very excited for the future of the port and the region.”