Problems plague Suffolk's fishermen

FISHERMAN at Felixstowe Ferry today face a series of hurdles that threaten their livelihoods – the latest is from unlicensed boats.After a gruelling daily routine the boats are returning with their catches to find that part-timers have busy stealing their customers illegally.

FISHERMAN at Felixstowe Ferry today face a series of hurdles that threaten their livelihoods – the latest is from unlicensed boats.

After a gruelling daily routine the boats are returning with their catches to find that part-timers have busy stealing their customers illegally.

This is putting extra pressure on the fishermen who are battling against the weather, seals, farmed fish and collapsing fish stocks to make a living anyway.

Fisherman Craig Ablitt said: "They are making a mockery out of the licensing system. If they were fishing just to feed themselves it would be fine but those that are making a profit are the problem."

Boats are allowed to go out and catch what they can as long as they follow government size limits. But fisherman need to have a licence to sell the fish for a profit.

The government last week announced the opening of a £5 million decommissioning scheme where owners of fishing vessels can opt to break up their boats and hand over their licences in return for a government payment.

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Veteran fisherman, Alan Crawford, said: "None of the boats at the Ferry are over ten metres in length so do not qualify for the scheme."

His 35-year-old son, Stephen, said: "I would not give fishing up even if we did qualify. It's more of a way of life than a job and I love it.

"The huge beam trawlers are damaging the fish populations not the smaller inshore boats. We catch such a small amount in comparison."

At the moment the Crawford's are catching cod on hooks baited with squid. This is the most environmentally friendly method, as the mouths of undersize fish are not large enough to get caught on the big hooks.

When the cod migrate away in the summer the fishermen will change over to trawl nets to catch different types of fish.

"Our trawl nets are small and light so they just scuff the bottom causing very little damage," The younger Mr Crawford added.

It is also getting harder to land the fish as thieving seals are on the increase causing damage to both the fish and the nets.

French fish farms were also adding to their problems. Ed Butters said: "The price of bass has halved because of the farmed fish. They are full of hormones and don't even look right. Anyone who knows anything about fish wouldn't touch them but they are still hitting our pockets."

The biggest problem to the fishermen face is the weather and over the winter months prolonged winds forced the boats to stay at anchor in the harbour. Mr Butters only managed to get out 11 times in three months.

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