Calls have been made to reinstate the dredging of Fleetwood’s dock channel as a matter of urgency.
Concerns have been expressed that the lack of dredging is causing difficulties to existing businesses and putting off potential new trade in the port.
ABP don’t dredge the channel at all now, they haven’t done it since the P&O boats left
Members of the fishing community and veterans of the industry believe port owner Associated British Ports (ABP) could do more to help port business.
And with the announcement of a new multi-million pound fish park for Fleetwood there are still hopes a modest fish catching element could be re-introduced in the future.
Fisherman John Worthington, who sails two boats out of Fleetwood – one for fishing and one for sea angling trips – says the lack of dredging is a threat.
He added: “ABP don’t dredge the channel at all now, they haven’t done it since the P&O boats left.
“It’s worse on the Tiger’s Tail (sandbank)you really struggle to get in and out now and it’s dangerous, you could lose your boat if you get stuck.
“We can only go out two hours either side of high water.
“There’s no way you can sail at low tide, there’s about two feet underneath the boat – it used to be 10ft.
“If we have to come in because of bad weather, we have to wait at the top of the channel. That can be dangerous.”
Steve Whelan who operates an 80ft steel trawler with a deep hull hasn’t been back to his home port for 18 months.
Having fished out of Fleetwood for 30 years, Mr Whelan’s boat is one of the last surviving trawlers of the large class and he can’t risk trying to sail into Fleetwood.
He said: “My boat is in Whitehaven.
“We’ve been working at the windfarms but the contract ended in December. We would have liked to have come back to Fleetwood for maintenance and repair work but we can’t.”
Steve lives 10 minutes from Fleetwood dock but has to make a two-and-a-half hour trip to Whitehaven to tend to the boat.
He added: “We go up there and sleep on the boat for a few days, do work, and drive home.
“If it was in Fleetwood we’d be down there every day. All our fishing gear and equipment is here, the whole infrastructure is there.”
Mr Whelan said vessels contracted to work as guard boats or to conduct wildlife surveys at the windfarms could be more inclined to use Fleetwood if facilities were better.
AM Seafoods echoed Mr Worthington’s statement and said although they are happy with the service ABP provides, dredging would encourage more boats.
Company director Mark Merrick said: “We have four boats in and out very regularly and at certain times they can’t land because of low tides but on those occasions they will land elsewhere.
“If we could get more dredging done outside the dock gates we would be able to get more boats in.”
Peggy Whittaker, former chairman of the Fleetwood branch of the British Fishermen’s Association added: “A lot of people would love to see a return to port activities at Fleetwood. But Associated British Ports don’t seem to want to do that.”
Former trawler manager and fishing magazine editor Peter Brady, claimed Associated British Ports have deliberately run down the docks to use the land for housing.
He cites as the main reasons:
n A reduction of dredging
n Continually increasing charges for vessels
n The removal of key features needed for fishing boats, such as the ice house and slipway.
Mr Brady said although Fleetwood was hit hard by the final 1979 Cod War, which banned British vessels from Icelandic fishing grounds, and subsequent quota restrictions imposed by the EU, the port could have survived.
He said: “It is plain ABP wish to close down Fleetwood as a commercial port and simply use the land to build houses on, just as they have done on other locations.
“As a seaport, Fleetwood has almost disappeared and this has been deliberate.”
Ken Hayton, director at Midland Fish, said a lack of dredging doesn’t help but with only two boats left in the fleet he manages, it wasn’t a big issue.
He said: “We used to have 70 boats, now we only have two.
“There has been a general decline in the industry for the past 30 years dwindling the boats down to almost no fleet.
“We work by road, some of the fish we process comes from Norway, Iceland, the processing side of the industry is still going strong and the fish park is exactly what we need.”
Fleetwood Port Manager Paul Jervis said: “ABP remains confident about the prospects for the Port of Fleetwood.
“We continue to actively market the ferry terminal facility here and are working hard with the local council, and the fish park developer to secure the long term future of the port.”