Fishermen forced to rely on charity as bad weather keeps them from sea

Jackie Norman, Skipper Norman McBride  and Stanley Hanna at Kilkeel Harbour in Co Down.
Jackie Norman, Skipper Norman McBride and Stanley Hanna at Kilkeel Harbour in Co Down.

Fishermen have been queueing for handouts as the worst crisis in living memory grips the once-thriving industry.

In recent days, the Fishermen’s Mission at Kilkeel harbour has distributed around £20,000 in emergency payments to struggling trawlermen.

The cash has been made available through a donation of £50,000 from the Seafarers UK charity to an emergency fund for the whole of the UK.

Most of the assistance has been in the form of direct payments to mortgage providers or landlords, and through vouchers redeemable at a local supermarket.

One of those affected by a 16-month spell of unusually turbulent weather – meaning fishermen cannot get out to sea – is a boat skipper who has never experienced such financial hardship during his 33 years in the job.

“This has been the worst year without a doubt,” Norman McBride said.

“Last year was bad but this year has been a lot worse.

“EU quotas are a problem too as we’re not allowed to catch cod. We are actually dumping cod which I never thought we would have to do.

“The prawn fishing starts in May or June but three months [fishing] doesn’t make a year.”

The father of two young children, aged three and six, claimed the banks won’t lend money to fishermen and there is no way of keeping up with mortgage payments.

“This is the first time I have ever had to go and look for charity – and it’s not nice, I can tell you.

“It’s something, and everybody means well, but at the end of the day it won’t pay the mortgage.”

Alan McCulla, of the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers Organisation, said the current crisis affecting his industry was on a par with the snow-related devastation caused to farmers last year – but said there is no fisheries equivalent of photographs of dead sheep to stir the politicians at Stormont.

“When it snowed there were some very evocative pictures, unfortunately, of dead sheep lying in fields. The problem the fishermen have is that we can’t repeat those photographs, but it’s that kind of media coverage that obviously triggered the money for farmers,” said Mr McCulla.

“I’m not belittling that in any way, but it was those kind of images that really brought it home to the public, and to the politicians, and £5 million was found out of an emergency fund literally overnight.”

SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie has called for an emergency meeting of the Executive to discuss the crisis.

“One fisherman I spoke with told me some of the men he knew don’t have enough money to buy food and other essential commodities. He said they are turning to the Fishermen’s Mission for help and, on one occasion, 85 fishermen had queued to get food vouchers,” she said.