Harry Wick, CEO of the Portavogie based NI Fish Producers Organisation, has told the News Letter that the rising cost of red diesel is making some 900 fishing related jobs in Northern Ireland increasingly vulnerable.
“In terms of the price of fuel it is a very serious issue for us,” he said. “We currently have vessels tied up because it just isn’t economical for them to fish at the minute.
“If red diesel prices stay above 90p for the remainder of the year they are looking at a 733% drop in operating profit. Now bear in mind anything over a 100% drop in operating profit means that you are operating at a loss.
so 733% is pretty shocking stuff.”
He says the NI fleet is “by some distance” the worst affected part of the UK fishing fleet.
And within that, NI prawn trawlers are going to be hit harder than any other segment of the UK industry.
“So that is a real problem for us. The guys aren’t daft, they will just cease fishing and they will tie up - but that creates other problems.”
His organisation represents about 60 prawn trawlers.
“Quite a few of them are already tied up. They still have all the other overheads, wages, harbour fees, insurance and fuel costs for generators because some of the crew live on the vessels. A significant proportion of your costs don’t go away if you tie up.
The difference is there is no money coming in to meet those costs.”
In any other year they would weather the pressures, he says, but resilience is depleted for many businesses after two years of Covid.
“To be hit with this on the back of Covid it is really worrying.”
Prawn fishermen are particularly vulnerable because their vessels are somewhat older and less fuel efficient than other UK boats and because their catch is not worth as much as other produce.
The break-even price for fishermen requires red diesel to be 68p a litre but it recently peaked at 122p in Kilkeel, he says.
The projected losses are based on red diesel prices staying about 90p - which would mean almost all UK fishermen will be making a loss.
“We are going to run into a situation where we can’t turn a profit and cash reserves run out and we see vessels potentially being put up for sale. The fleet makes the bulk of its profit over the summer.
“If we can get through until the end of August and fuel prices are still high there will be a lot of businesses that will really struggle to survive the winter.”
About 300 jobs in prawn vessels with another 600 jobs in processing would be more vulnerable in the current situation, he says.
“We have raised these concerns with the UK fisheries minister and Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots. I believe Mr Poots has directed officials to examine options to support the fishing industry.”
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