Seafarers UK Announces Increased Support for Fishermen in Need and Their Coastal Communities

July 9, 2019

Speaking at a reception on the second day of Seafarers Awareness Week (8-14 July 2019), Seafarers UK Director General Barry Bryant CVO RN said:

This year, for the first time but not surprisingly given our recent emphasis, fishing is the theme of Seafarers Awareness Week. Last Friday my Grants Director, Deborah Layde, and Jerry Percy from the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association joined forces in TV and radio studios and gave more than 30 interviews to a total audience of millions.

Seafarers UK has sometimes in the past been accused of trying to boil the ocean, and we’ve occasionally had to curb our ambitions. There are some technical and political areas that we shouldn’t touch but sometimes stray into, but we very much want to concentrate on the fishermen themselves and what we hope we can do to help them and their dependents.

We know sustainability is important, we know the price of fish is important, we know quotas are important – but they are not our remit. In the course of this work, we have sometimes felt that the fish seem more important than the fishermen – and this is where our new Fishing Strategy Vision comes from. Seafarers UK wants to see:

Fishermen who are financially resilient, healthy and safe, living and working in thriving coastal communities with a positive future.

And thus our mission is:

To work in collaboration with others to unlock skills, support and funds in order to achieve that vision for fishermen and their communities.

Another shift that came about at this time of change was the fact that, in common with many charities, our grants had largely concentrated on remedial action – ‘sticking plaster’ interventions, after people had fallen into distress – rather than preventative action to avoid distress in the first place.

The trouble was, in the case of fishing, we didn’t know enough about either the industry or the communities.

And so, with never enough resources to do everything ourselves, we commissioned some real waterfront research by the Cornwall Rural Community Charity, which had the ability and experience to work nationwide. The result was the seminal report with which many of you are now familiar: Fishing for a Future.

This was necessarily done on a tight budget and to a timescale, but we were delighted with the result. There was just enough detail to clearly point out the main areas where a bit of imagination and investment could make a difference.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the research revealed significant levels of deprivation in remote coastal communities, with characteristics of poor health and low educational attainment.

What proved to be more shocking was the high level of risk tolerance displayed by some fishermen, who continue to work in unsafe and dangerous environments that are not tolerated in any other work place. Certainly not, for example, in the construction industry anymore, which has a huge and very visible hard hat, high vis safety culture.

The research found that many smaller local authority-owned fishing ports lack investment, which results in unsafe work environments, with broken ladders and rotten and dangerous wooden piers.

Meanwhile the fishermen themselves risk their lives every day to put food on our tables – some with vessels that have been handed down over many generations – while others continue to go to sea without using basic, and potentially life-saving equipment, such as a personal flotation devices and locator beacons.

To be honest, most of these problems are much too big for Seafarers UK to tackle alone. However the research we commissioned has enabled us to find common cause with DEFRA, the British Ports Association, Trinity House, the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers and others, to try to address some of the problems which the report highlighted.

In fact, of course, Seafarers UK’s interest in fishing communities is the same as our wider interests in Merchant Navy and Royal Naval personnel. In short, it covers their:

  • Wellbeing: welfare needs, physical, mental, preventing isolation/loneliness, human rights
  • Education & Skills: training, recruitment initiatives, maritime careers awareness, upskilling, transferrable skills and learning from the wider maritime sector
  • Financial Resilience: poverty, benefits, debt, grant support, access to capital for business development, retirement planning, financial insecurity
  • Safety: personal safety behaviour and training regulation compliance e.g. ILOC188 and harbour infrastructure.

Here are just a few examples from each area

  • GetSeaFit Programme:  Our largest and most significant contribution to helping improving the health and wellbeing of fishermen has been through a grant of nearly three quarters of a million pounds to two organisations that we have long supported – Fishermen’s Mission and Seafarers Hospital Society – who are working in partnership to address some of the health issues identified in the research. They are now delivering early intervention and prevention advice and support at the quayside to help fishermen improve their long term physical and mental health and wellbeing. This initiative consists of an assortment of health checks (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.), mobile dentistry, physiotherapy, optical checks, stop smoking advice and weight management, and is being delivered at fishing harbours from Peterhead in Scotland to Newlyn in Cornwall, all three major fishing ports in Northern Ireland and a number of other key areas.
  • Careers Awareness: This ties in with wider work that we’re doing with Maritime UK, including innovative schemes like ‘My School is an Island’, where we ask groups of schoolchildren to imagine just that, with all the advantages and problems that consequently arise – not least having to feed themselves through fishing. We have given a small grant of £10,000 to enable the Marine Conservation Society to develop a new curriculum-linked education programme for primary schools that uses local fishermen as ‘Ambassadors’ to raise awareness of local fishing practice, culture, heritage and marine conservation awareness. We are also pleased to be partnering with the Fishmongers’ Company to support an apprenticeships feasibility study within the Plymouth Marine Park area. This project aims to recruit local young people into the fishing community by training them with the skills needed to collect on-board fish data and samples for scientists to evaluate.
  • Animation: We needed to unlock some of the European funds that are currently available to help fishermen meet the new legal requirements of ILO188. Given the research findings about fishermen’s lack of IT capacity and capability with regard to complex grant applications, we have partnered with Trinity House and the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers to co-fund a £179,000 ‘Animation’ Project. This employs three ‘animateurs’ to work directly with fishermen, to turn their ideas about improving the safety of their vessels and adding value to their catch into submitted grant applications to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund with, I have to say, considerable success.
  • Credit Unions: The next challenge we faced was how could fishermen on a low income, and without access to savings or capital, meet the EMFF requirement to pay their required 20% contribution for safety equipment. This was overcome through providing relatively small grants to three different credit unions in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, and Redcar to fund bridging loans for the local fishermen in their area. Our first grant of £20,000 awarded to Kernow Credit Union in 2018 has been rolled over three times to provide 16 fishermen with total loans of almost £68,000, without any evidence of default or bad debt to date. So in effect this £20,000 grant has been utilised three times over and could continue to last for many years.
  • Financial Resilience: It became clear that a more fundamental problem exists in respect of the financial resilience of fishermen; particularly share fishermen, sole operators and casual employees who are reliant on the tide, the weather, the catch, the market price and their skill as a fisherman in order to earn a living. This is not a simple issue about low income and low pay, although obviously these have an effect. It is about how strategies can be put in place to support fishermen to budget, and manage the differences between the good fishing days and the bad weeks and months. We have a new research project currently underway, led by a senior researcher on financial inclusion at Liverpool John Moores University, and this will hopefully inform our funding strategy to support fishermen even more over the coming years.
  • Safety Awareness and Harbour Infrastructure: Where we have been able to contribute to a few small, but vital improvements for harbours, this has the benefit of improving the safety and, in some cases, the hygiene of the working environment for local fishermen. For example, a grant of £28,438 helped Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners to improve the welfare facilities for fishermen by providing power and water connections to visiting fishing vessels. An even smaller grant of £6,360 enabled the installation of a new central heating system in the offices of the Whitehaven Fishermen’s Co-operative, which is also used as the local fishermen’s social hub. Orkney Fisheries Association benefited from a grant of £29,572 to help develop a multi-use building so that fishermen could have a hygienic and safe building to work in and securely store their fishing gear. The Eastbourne Under 10m Fisherman’s Co-operative was supported with a grant of £25,000 to begin to take forward their aspiration to create a working fishermen’s quay in Sovereign Harbour – an aspiration they have held for 25 years.

So where do we go from here?

Seafarers UK wants to achieve its strategy by taking forward the following objectives in 2019:

  1. We’ll keep supporting the GetSeaFit health programme for fishermen, focusing on local NHS influence
  2. We want to continue supporting and funding the UK-wide Animation Programme to support safety improvements and business development for individual fishermen and their associations and communities
  3. We will lobby for collaborative work on enhancing and further encouraging new entrants, and upskilling of existing fishermen, or funding some collaboration to increase the pace in this area
  4. We are very keen to continue our considerable success in influencing the scope and design of DEFRA’s research into the social needs of fishermen
  5. We will campaign and collaborate with others to influence industry’s co-production of a ‘Fishing 2050’ strategy to include Seafood 2040, Seafish’s corporate plan, and DEFRA’s plans (we envisage something similar to DfT’s Maritime 2050 publication)
  6. We will take forward a further research project in partnership with DEFRA and Citizens Advice on the financial insecurity and resilience of fishermen, with the aim of influencing financial service providers to develop financial products that support the financial resilience of fishermen (e.g.: debt, sick pay, pension planning, savings, health insurance, funeral costs, industrial injuries compensation, etc.)
  7. Similarly, we hope to work alongside others to influence DEFRA to equally prioritise the safety needs of fishermen and the sustainability of fish stocks
  8. We would like to influence the Big Lottery’s ‘Coastal Communities Fund’ to better support the needs of fishing communities, through funding initiatives that will improve harbour infrastructure and fishermen’s working environments to re-balance the present focus on tourism-related marina development
  9. We want to continue to encourage other governmental and external bodies and departments where new approaches could enhance fishermen’s health, safety and welfare (for example APPG, DfT, International Labour Organisation, local clinical commissioning groups, local authorities, etc.), and we are delighted to see the recent publication of the new Maritime Safety Action Plan – not least it’s reference to our own work with Fishing for a Future
  10. We want to explore the possibility of opening up access to new sources of Government funding from DEFRA to support and enhance the social needs of fishermen.
  11. And finally, we need to balance our messaging concerning awareness-raising of the opportunities in fishing as a career, against some of the inherent dangers of the industry that can result in real welfare need and of course this involves the related encouragement of improvements in safety buy-in and support.

In summary, you have heard quite a lot about what Seafarers UK wants to do, and believes it can do, in the next few years, but we cannot do it alone.

Getting back to where I started, we will facilitate, we will collaborate, we will cooperate, we will contribute money, ideas and manpower, but we continue to encourage other charities, government departments, and indeed the corporate world to see the bigger picture, to appreciate not just the economic benefits of the fishing industry, but its wider social, communal and even historical place in the infrastructure of our Island Nation.