Has charity's call to save Fleetwood's small boat fishing fleet come too late?

John Worthington, one of Fleetwood's last surviving fishermen.
John Worthington, one of Fleetwood's last surviving fishermen.

Fleetwood's once great fishing fleet is now down to just three small boats and these remaining fishermen are struggling to make a living.

The current plight of the remaining industry was highlighted after a leading maritime charity, Seafarers UK, warned that the country’s small boat fishing fleets risked becoming a thing of the past.

The charity called on consumers, particularly in coastal counties and cities, to buy fresh local fish rather than fish imported from foreign waters, and to be more adventurous and try eating varieties of fish and shellfish that are plentiful around the UK’s coastline.

But one of the last remaining fishermen in Fleetwood, John Worthington, says the current business is barely sustainable for those catching fish and landing it in Fleetwood.

Mr Worthington, 53, of Troutbeck Avenue, Fleetwood, goes out fishing on his Cornish crabber vessel, Mi-amor, and catches plaice, sole, dabs and whiting in the Irish Sea.

But he said facilities at Fleetwood were no longer geared towards serious fishing and lagged behind other ports such as Newlyn in Cornwall and Brixham in Devon.

He said: "At those other ports they have electronic auctions which help drive up the fish prices and ensure you get a decent amount for the stuff you land.

"There are not enough boats landing at Fleetwood to enable that to happen, so we don't get as good prices as in those others places.

"As well as that, it's becoming harder to even get in and out of the dock because of the mudbanks

"Speaking personally, I can only make a living by also taking out chartered angling parties in another boat, Kingfisher.

"If I relied on fishing alone, I would probably be bankrupt.

"This report is welcome but it wouldn't really make enough difference to me."

Fleetwood’s port expanded rapidly greatly in the first half of the 20th century with the growth of the UK fishing industry but the decline of the fishing industry began in the 1960s, hastened by the Cod Wars with Iceland in the 1970s when British boats were banned from traditional distance water fishing grounds, though fish processing is still a major economic activity in the town.

The town's merchants and fish processors do use some fish caught locally, but a great deal of it comes from Scotland or Scandinavia and is brought in on lorries, to be processed and packaged at Fleetwood.

Seafarer’s latest report UK stated: "The number of fishing vessels in the UK fleet has fallen by 29% since 1996.

"Catches are 60 per cent lower than they were in 1973 and the UK is now a net importer of fish. 75% of British caught fish is exported while 80% of the fish we eat is imported.

"Many once thriving fishing fleets are now reduced to just a handful of boats.

"Fishing is the most dangerous job in Britain; it is poorly paid, with many fishermen self-employed and living a hand to mouth existence."

The charity said consumers across the country could help their local industries by buying the fish caught locally.

But Mr Worthington added: "I can't see things changing in Fleetwood any time soon, the decline has gone too far, for too long."