The consequences of the shrinkage of the North Sea fishery, due to the accumulated challenges of the pulse ban, high fuel prices, Brexit and the construction of offshore wind farms, are affecting the land-based enterprises that depend on North Sea fishery. In doing so, the socio-economic scale, such as employment and turnover, of these onshore enterprises is much larger than that of North Sea fisheries at sea itself.
This is stated in an impact analysis prepared by Wageningen Economic Research on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.
In 2021, the Netherlands had 346 land-based companies dependent on North Sea fisheries, active in the fish processing chain or supply industry. The total turnover of this Dutch fish cluster was €6.6 billion with 13,550 employees. These include companies such as fish auctions, fish processing and trade, and transport as well as technical suppliers such as shipbuilders. Of the 346 companies, 314 depended on North Sea fisheries for more than 5% of turnover in 2021.
The dependence varies greatly from one company to another, but on average, 40-50% of turnover of these companies was directly attributable to North Sea fisheries. The total turnover of the North Sea fisheries fish cluster was therefore rounded to €2.9 billion in 2021. By comparison, North Sea fishery itself accounted for €344 million in turnover and around 1800 crew in 2021.
Of the six Dutch fisheries regions, the fishing clusters dependent on North Sea fishing with larger (flatfish) vessels are currently the most vulnerable in socio-economic terms. These are the fisheries regions IJmuiden, Urk, Kop van Noord-Holland and Southwest Netherlands.
IJmuiden is vulnerable because the fish processing and wholesale companies in this region are highly specialised in freshly packaged North Sea fish. For Urk, an increasing number of fish processing companies are forced to switch from filleting plaice to alternatives such as farmed salmon from Norway and imported plaice, cod and other fish species.
Nevertheless, many companies based in Urk still specialise in processing, transport or technical supply of the North Sea fishery, leading to significant consequences for those companies in the event of a shrinking cutter fleet. Southwest Netherlands is known for shipbuilding and transport logistics for cutter fishing. The Kop van Noord-Holland is relatively small as for as the number of companies within this fishing cluster is concerned, but here the entire infrastructure is under pressure as the vast majority of the large vessels have been sold or decommissioned.
Activity and knowledge declining
As the North Sea fishery and businesses are under pressure, onshore business specialising in North Sea fish can be expected to decline. However, more than just turnover and employment will disappear. According to the companies, the biggest concerns cannot be expressed in euros or employment figures.
Examples include the loss of staff and therefore hard-to-replace specialist expertise, a deteriorating internationally competitive position due to the loss of fresh North Sea fish.
Imported farmed fish or frozen wild-caught fish can be processed almost anywhere in the world. The Netherlands will become more rapidly exchangeable for other countries with lower labour costs or less transport distance. Fresh North Sea fish on the other hand cannot be processed everywhere and requires specific knowledge
To this can be added the loss of identity of fisheries regions due to the absence of activity in the port but also due to the shrinking of the fish cluster, and an uncertainty about the future among enterprises in the fish cluster. Long-term business plans or investments in innovations fail to materialise due to this uncertainty.
According to the WUR analysis, many land-based processing companies have had to change strategy and have opted for alternatives to North Sea fishing. Imports of fish products will increase given the rising demand for fish globally. At the same time, the Netherlands’ distinctiveness is under pressure as there is less and less fresh North Sea fishery available.
At the same time, national and European policy decisions will have to offer perspective for making long-term business plans and investing in innovations. The report’s authors state that co-operation and coordination with other EU member states, given the unstable geopolitical developments and the many European policy decisions, will be crucial for vital and resilient fish clusters in the Netherlands.