Southwest fishermen outraged at new overnight berthing charges being forced on them by Sutton Harbour Holdings in Plymouth

Two skippers from Mevagissey were told they had to pay overnight berthing charges in Sutton Harbour

Fishermen in the southwest of England are outraged at new berthing charges being forced on them by Sutton Harbour Holdings in Plymouth. 

The Plymouth harbour is controlled by Sutton Harbour Holdings (SHH) part of the Sutton Harbour Group Plc which is a development company which is involved in plans for the widespread regeneration of Plymouth’s historic waterfront. Sutton Harbour is home to an award-winning marina and Plymouth Fisheries which is the second largest fresh fish market in England. Plymouth Trawler Agents manages the fish auction at the harbour that sells more than 6,000 tonnes of fresh fish every year. 

The makes harbour is an important hub for fishing vessels in the southwest of England as it provides the fish auction and other important services such as ice and fuel. It is also a safe harbour in the event of bad weather or a breakdown for many of the smaller fishing vessels that frequent it. 

Recently though, some fishermen have felt that they are not being treated fairly and that the landlords, SHH are taking advantage of the situation they have over the fishing boat owners.  

One of the fishermen who feels aggrieved by the situation is Mevagissey-based fishermen Bracken Pearce (28) who is the skipper of the “Spirited Lady”. 

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Late on Thursday, 16 December last, Bracken and his crew came into land in Plymouth only to be met with new demands from the harbour authority. 

Having landed his catch for sale, he and another Mevagissey-based fishing vessel “Copious” were told they would be charged £55 per night if they were going to leave their boats in the harbour. Despite landing and fishing out of Plymouth from time-to-time this was the first time they have been asked to pay for to remain in the harbour overnight. 

Southwest fishermen outraged at new overnight berthing charges being forced on them by Sutton Harbour Holdings in Plymouth

Bracken Pearce onboard his boat Spiritual Lady

Bracken said “Lads who fish out of here have long told me how difficult SHH try to make their lives and livelihoods, but I was shocked to be asked to pay to leave my boat here. When you land here SHH takes 2.5% landing dues off the top of your total earnings for your catch. Even when I am landing somewhere else and my fish comes to Plymouth Trawler Agents market by lorry, SHH takes a fee for ‘overlanding’. It has the most expensive fuel and ice in the Southwest and maybe the country. 

“Fishing harbours in the SW and elsewhere know that small boats like mine are very weather dependent. Along with bigger boats the landing due system works well, and boats are not normally asked to pay to stay in the harbour, they are already earning through landing dues and profits from fuel and ice. 

“When you start charging small boats to lay in the harbour, you run the risk of forcing them to leave a safe haven in poor weather conditions because they cannot simply afford to stay. That’s just not right” he said. 

In 2017 at just 23-year-old Bracken won the Fishing News Demersal Skipper of the Year in a competition judged by the industry that draws entrants from across the whole of the UK. During the first lockdown in 2020 he appeared on This Morning breakfast show with Eamon Holmes praising Plymouth for its hard work and initiative to help sell catches through the Call4Fish scheme, which started in Plymouth.  

Both boats appear on the Plymouth Trawler Agents website, the auction house, which is not run by SHH. 

Plymouth based marine and fisheries consultant Terri Portman said “We have long known that there is an incompatibility between the business practices of a property developer [SHH] and a successful vibrant fishing industry. This, I am afraid, sounds like the latest saga in a continuing pattern, but it comes after a tough few years for fishing, and a week before Christmas, and after several weeks of bad weather when boats have earned very little.” 

During the 2020 lockdown and beyond, fishermen saw the values of their catches drop by 40/50 % as their markets closed and hospitality shut. 2021 started with export problems caused by Brexit and reduced hospitality sales as more lockdowns came.  

SEAFARERS UK report Fishing Without a Safety Net uncovered that most small-scale fishermen had little savings and no financial resilience in their businesses at all. It was commissioned before Covid. 

The Fishing Daily has contacted SHH owners Sutton Harbour Group for a reply.

A spokesperson for Sutton Harbour Group said: “There has been no change in berthing fees charged to vessels using Sutton Harbour. Sutton Harbour Group charges vessels for temporary mooring in Sutton Harbour in line with our published terms and conditions, and these remain the same as they have done for years.

“Vessels landing fish in Sutton Harbour are offered 48 hours free mooring, and thereafter are charged as per the advertised Plymouth Fisheries tariff if they do not already pay mooring fees as local boats, which are offered a much lower rate of fees for annual mooring.

“Plymouth Fisheries is not a boat yard and makes no income from vessel engineering, so cannot offer vessels free mooring in order to conduct repairs.

“Our standing charges are common industry practice, and compare competitively with other South West harbours; for example, Looe charges £24 a night for vessels not landing to market, and only offers 24 hours free mooring for vessels landing fish. Torbay harbour charges £30 per day for a vessel of this size, and Newlyn charges £30.

“Equally, our ice and fuel prices are competitive and Sutton Harbour Group disputes claims it is overcharging. The group actually operates facilities at Plymouth Fisheries at a loss in order to support the region’s fishing industry.

“Sutton Harbour Group is fully committed to the continuation of fishing operations in Sutton Harbour. In fact, the Group is currently working closely with Plymouth City Council and local fishing industry leaders on plans to redevelop Plymouth’s Fish Quay to modernise facilities and enhance operating efficiency.

“Any claims suggesting otherwise are misinformed and not supported by the facts.”

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