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Fishermen ‘humbled’ by the support for industry in crisis

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FISHERMEN say they have been humbled by the public reaction and support as the market for local produce has boomed amid the coronavirus crisis.

Lee Allen Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (27741584)

But despite a busy weekend of trade for pop-up stalls and deliveries across the Island, industry leaders have warned that it is not enough to sustain the whole 130-vessel fleet.

Facebook group the Jersey Alternative Fish Market has been set up to collate all the advertised produce and already has almost 6,000 members.

Crews hope they can continue to sell produce direct to the public despite the Island going into lockdown yesterday morning. Fishing has been deemed an essential industry meaning crews can still continue to catch. And government advice states that ‘market stalls which offer essential retail, such as grocery and food’ can still remain open – as long as they adhere to social distancing rules.

Today, Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, urged Islanders to keep buying local and said as demand increases so will the range of supply.

Under normal circumstances, about 80% of Jersey’s catch – mainly shellfish – is exported but, it is estimated that around three-quarters of the fish consumed in Jersey is imported.

That export market crashed earlier this month as heavy restrictions and lockdowns came into force across Italy, Spain and France – the biggest buyers of Jersey shellfish.

Mr Thompson said although the wet fish market was small there was scope for more local supply – particularly of species such as ray – if there is demand.

Environment Minister John Young signed off proposals to allow the heavily-restricted commercial bass fishing season to start ten days earlier recently.

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Mr Thompson said: 'The virus has done for local fishing produce what no media marketing campaign could ever have done. I would call on Islanders to keep supporting our industry. We have some amazing produce.'

He added that proposals for immediate financial support specific to the industry and longer-term aid from the government were rejected by the Council of Ministers last week.

The JEP has contacted government for comment.

Fishermen were asking for a cash bailout to help pay immediate bills after a nightmare start to 2020 for trading due to poor weather, low fish stocks and a shut down of the export market due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also asked for support to waive certain harbour fees and, in the longer term, set up a processing plant so shellfish can be sold in larger volumes, at the correct standard, to local restaurants so the Island is not so reliant on the ‘volatile export market’.

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‘We were surprised it was completely rejected. What they said was the fishermen should be lumped together with other self-employed and access that wage supplement system,’ Mr Thompson said.

‘That is okay for small businesses with, say, a van and some tools but for someone who has to keep a fishing boat with a crew its not right. It’s a huge expense.’

Between April and the end of June, certain firms are able to claim up to 80% of their employees’ salary up to a maximum of £2,000 (totalling a £1,600 pay out). It includes self-employed workers.

Fisherman Andy Hibbs, a coxswain for the Jersey Lifeboat Association, said he sold almost 400kg of crab and lobster from his pop-up stall at Rozel at the weekend.

‘The support has been amazing, really humbling,’ he said. He plans to return to Rozel at the weekend.

Fishermen Lee Allen and Gary Cann have been selling their produce in St Brelade’s Bay. Mr Allen’s wife, Jay, said the support has been ‘unbelievable’.

‘The amazing support has kept us going. We have spoken to Fisheries and they have said to continue. We are ensuring there is as little contact as possible between everyone.

‘If people stock up once a week for their essentials in the supermarket they can support local fishing while getting their daily excercise.’

Meanwhile fisherman Adrian Le Moucheux has been donating his leftover stock to emergency service workers from a makeshift stall at the Albert Quay.

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
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