Initial Seafish economic performance estimates for 2020 show a total operating profit of the UK fishing fleet having dropped by almost a fifth in 2020.
Operating profit fell by 19% from £264 million in 2019 to £214 million in 2020, and turnover, which had been above the £1 billion mark for the previous three years, fell to £843 million – a 17% reduction.
According to Seafish, these totals include £18.6 million of grants paid directly to fishing businesses by the UK Government and devolved administrations. While this support helped some businesses to keep cash flows positive, many have reduced their fishing effort or changed the species they target to stay in business.
‘The global pandemic has affected every part of our lives so it’s no surprise that the UK fishing fleet had a challenging year in 2020. The impacts can be seen in the figures published today, which show overall operating profits falling by 19%,‘ said Seafish chief economist Arina Motova
‘These are top-line average figures and different parts of the fleet have had different experiences. For example, vessels normally supplying shellfish into hospitality markets were acutely affected. Overall, nephrops trawlers and scallop dredgers saw fishing income drop by 39% in 2020 compared to 2019. Those catching mackerel enjoyed higher quotas and relatively stable average prices.’
The UK fleet’s overall landed volume was around 620,000 tonnes, which is close to the 2019 figure. Fishing income fell from £990 million in 2019 to £806 million in 2020, due to lower levels of fishing activity and lower fish prices.
Operating costs decreased from £757 million in 2019 to £629 million in 2020. This fall in costs is attributed to lower levels of activity and reduced fuel prices. The total spent by the fleet on fuel in 2020 was 31% down compared to the previous year at an estimated £91 million.
The average cost of fuel fell from 49.5 pence per litre in 2019 to 37.1 pence per litre in 2020. Crew costs also decreased compared to 2019, falling from £272 million to £216 million. With many crew paid through crew share agreements this drop likely means a reduction in incomes.
The total number of active fishing vessels fell from 4548 in 2019 to 4301 in 2020. More vessel operators licensed to fish opted to remain in port in 2020. The number of inactive vessels grew to 1692, a 16% increase on 2019.
‘2020 has again shown the resilience of the UK fishing fleet in extremely challenging times. Most vessels could not avoid tying up or reducing their activity for a period. That said, adaptation, diversification and collaboration have kept vessels fishing and the seafood supply chain moving,’ Arina Motova said.
‘While it’s too early to understand the full impact of the pandemic on the economic performance of fishing vessels, these figures do give us an early indication of the situation. We expect to see more detail as company accounts are filed next spring.’