A Manx fisherman has told Gef of his concerns for the industry as it slips through the gaps of gov support.
Alex Ironside, based in Peel, said that the drop in sales as a result of the global pandemic has led to a slump in the price of Manx seafood.
He told Gef that current gov support such as MERA, Salary Support, and Business Support doesn’t extend to the island’s fishing fleet, which has forced some fishermen to leave the industry. Alex explained that during the previous lockdown, there was a fisheries support scheme, but that it was designed to support the boat and was used to cover insurance and other costs, and that it failed to protect jobs.
Alex said: ‘In the first lockdown we were all told to apply for job seekers’ allowance, which involved reams of paperwork, to then find out you don’t qualify. So a lot of the fishermen have gone into construction, there are four of five boats tied up in the harbour because there’s no crew for them.’
He added with five boats tied up, the industry must have lost a ‘minimum’ of 10 fishermen over the previous 12 months.
While Covid has shut restaurants in Europe, where a lot of Manx seafood is sold, Alex said the amount fishermen were receiving per kilo of scallops has fallen from £13 to £9 and in the summer the value halved.
He said that the fishermen have heard that support may be made available by the Dept of Environment, Food, and Agriculture (DEFA) but that it was likely to be in the form of further support for ensuring boats stay in the water rather than ensuring there are the men and women available to sail them.
Alex said that he has been surviving on savings and admits that after the last lockdown he was able to get a part-time job working on a construction site which ensures he has had some income. He added that he would like to see the MERA payments extended to fishermen, who due to their status as self-employed, are not entitled to it.
After we raised Alex’s concerns with DEFA, the dept sent out a press release which said it is working closely with the seafood industry to explore support options in light of the obstacles it is facing since the UK exited Europe on 1 January.
The gov also restated that it has reintroduced several support schemes for workers and businesses including MERA and Coronavirus Business Support Scheme that are available to those in the sector who are eligible.
Its statement added: ‘During the first lockdown a package of specific financial support was made available to seafood businesses. This support was extended twice to provide an overall package that lasted for nine months in 2020.’