By Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association
JERSEY’S fishing industry, already suffering the effects of prolonged winter gales, along with diminishing stock levels for some of the primary species, was the first sector in Jersey to feel the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.
The Island’s shellfish export market, accounting for around 80% of overall production, was abruptly shut down in early March, affecting both the aquaculture and capture fisheries sectors. In a cruel twist of fate, the shut-down coincided precisely with the first spell of good weather seen since Autumn 2019 and when rising sea temperatures normally bring improved catches.
A range of proposals developed by industry leaders and Jersey’s Marine Resources Department, aimed at practical ways in which government could assist Jersey’s fishermen to weather the crisis, and in order to have an industry in place at the other end of the current crisis, were rejected by the Council of Ministers in late March.
Although fishing continues at a greatly diminished level to supply local sales, it is likely that without the support that UK and European fleets are receiving, a significant part of Jersey’s historic fleet will be lost before normal life resumes. The resilience of the fleet comes down to individual circumstance, whether or not particular fishermen are servicing loans and mortgages and of course, how long the export market stays closed.
Amid tragedy and adversity however there is often opportunity! A small number of fishermen have been trying novel ways, particularly through social media, to offer direct sales of daily catch, to a hugely supportive public.. No media campaign could ever have boosted local sales to the extent that the current crisis has done. ‘Jersey’s Alternative Fish Market Facebook page’, direct sales from boats and stalls at St Brelade, Rozel and Bouley Bay, along with a new online sales site, have all contributed to increased local sales of fish.
Jersey Fishermen’s Association has asked government to consider the future of the Granville Bay Treaty in the context of food security and it is hoped that the current crisis will sharpen focus on the importance of fish as an important and renewable resource. Certainly allowing uncontrolled fishing by our French neighbors – and consequently around 26 million Euros worth of fish being plundered from our waters annually – does not represent best use of our marines resource.
Jersey Fishermen’s Association thank Genuine Jersey and particularly the Jersey public for their wonderful support in these unprecedented difficult times.