Survey launched for views on declining fishing industry

Lowestoft fishing boats in the harbour.

Lowestoft fishing boats in the harbour. - Credit: Picture: Nick Butcher

Few would argue that our fishing industry has seen better days.

Gone are the times when more than 100 trawlers landed their catch in Lowestoft, and Suffolk's inshore fleets were able to land plentiful catches, providing a livelihoods for scores of local families.

Dwindling fish stocks and strict quotas on catches have forced many North Sea fishermen to turn their backs on a traditional industry that was once one of Lowestoft's biggest employers – and synonymous with the town.

But in a bid to understand the impact of fishing's decline on coastal communities, a major new survey is now being conducted by researchers at the University of Greenwich in London.

The results will be used to better inform those involved in fisheries policy and management and will be made available to decision makers and people living in the towns affected.

Senior research fellow at Greenwich University Dr Julie Urquhart, who is co-leading the project, said: 'With fishing in decline in many areas, it is important to understand the social and cultural value of fishing for coastal communities. Fishing is an attraction for visitors and it is part of the heritage and identity of the community

'If we lose fishing in those areas we lose the identity of the communities.'

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The survey, which is part of a European Union programme, is being carried out in fishing communities on both sides of the English Channel and the southern North Sea.

It aims to find out how marine fishing affects how people in coastal communities feel about where they live.

Surveys are being distributed to people involved with the fishing industry at all levels and delivered to a random sample of residents living in coastal communities.

People living or working in coastal communities are also being encouraged to complete the survey online.

Dr Urquhart added: 'The problem is we don't have any evidence of how marine fishing contributes to a wider community so it is always a problem trying to incorporate those objectives into policies and decisions.

'They are often based on stock assessments and biological data and not social evidence.'

There are currently about a dozen small inshore fishing boats regularly operating from the harbour at Lowestoft. However, most of these are run by men who are reaching, or are already beyond, retirement age and there is a lack of young people coming in to the industry.

Paul Mears, 59, has been fishing all his life. He moved from Wales to Lowestoft in the 1970s to work on the fishing trawlers when there were more than 100 operating from the harbour. He is now an inshore fisherman, working from his boat Orion and says he is trying to hang on until he was old enough to claim a pension.

He said: 'When I came up here in the 1970s the town was really buzzing. It wasn't just fishing. There were canning factories and the shipyards were running too.

'The heart has been ripped out of Lowestoft. It could be too late to turn it around. I hope it isn't because there could be a good living out there.'

John Knights, 69, crews his fishing boat Icene single-handed. He came to fishing later in life after running a garage in Attleborough and uses his savings to support himself.

He said it was no longer possible to make a decent living in the industry because of the cost of bait and fuel and the restrictive nature of catch quotas.

He warned that vital knowledge and skills would be lost forever when the last fishermen retired.

He said: 'It is a hard job for no returns. There are very few young men coming to take over. I can't afford to take anybody on to train. I am a one-man crew.'

Despite the decline of fishing in Waveney, the industry remains a key one for many businesses – including local merchants and suppliers and a number of pubs and restaurants.

Sutherland House in Southwold prides itself on selling locally-sourced fish and even prints food miles on the menus in its seafood restaurant in High Street.

General manager Andy Rudd said locally-caught fish was vital to the business.

He said: 'I think more and more people want to see that we are trying to source things locally. I think we would almost have to rethink what we do if we couldn't get local fish.

'We get customers asking us where they can buy what we sell and I've sent a lot of people down to Southwold Harbour.

'I think people are attracted to this area because it has got traditional local industries. It wouldn't be good for the town if there weren't any fishing boats.'

The full results of the project will be published in summer 2014 but initial results will be available towards the end of this year.

?To take part in the survey, which runs until April 19, visit:

?For a paper copy, contact Dr Julie Urquhart at or ring 0208 331 8227/9751.