The Tories have just swallowed fishermen whole and spat them out


By Russell Bruce

Coastal communities are being exploited by a band of hard Brexiteers who care nothing about the future of fishermen and the media are doing little to explain the consequences of a hard Brexit on the fishing and processing industry.

Scotland’s hard Brexit Tories threatened a revolt to bring May’s government down. The rebellion died in 10 minutes because they know fish are not the real story – just as £350 million for the NHS was just another fishy tale to deceive voters and divert them from the real agenda.

As Mandy Rhodes, Editor of Holyrood Magazine, and one familiar with the fishing community on the Moray coast put it in her weekend article Scottish fishermen have been done up like kippers:

“What was more surprising to me was that fishermen, who so loathed the Common

Mandy Rhodes

Fisheries Policy, were prepared to put their faith in the same Conservatives that took them into it, to then take them out of it with no equivalent pain.

“They were expendable then and they are expendable now.”

The Tories real concern is what will happen to the UK’s important financial sector employing 1,100,000 people. May has acknowledged that the UK will no longer have passporting rights to sell financial products in the EU after Brexit. Fishing is worth just 0.05% of UK GDP and most of that is from Scottish waters.







I had planned to include a diagram of tax revenues from fishing compared to the financial sector. Tax revenues from fishing are so small in comparison that they did not register with the software. The headline graphic makes the point.

Scotland is the dominant player in the fishing industry

Scotland and the rest of the UK do not consume the fish catch from the waters of the 4 nations. The market for 75% of the catch is mainly EU countries.

Over half of all FTE jobs are on Scottish registered vessels and Scotland accounts for the largest share of the industry by far.


















Of the 6,420 registered fishing vessels in the UK – 1844 (28.7%) are inactive. These are mostly small vessels in the South West and North East of England. 1739 (27.1%) vessels are classified as low activity meaning that income per vessel is less than £10.000. No tax revenue then.


Media articles usually quote employment in fishing at 12,000 but this overestimates the level of employment, as many fishermen are part time. Historically small vessels, below 10m, were involved in fishing part time.

In 2015 there were just 7,795 Full Time Equivalent jobs rising to 8,100 FTE in 2016.The increase in FTE may be the result of increased hours worked rather higher employment.

How much do fishermen earn?

The average fishing crew income (FTE) was £18,167 a year in 2015 but there is huge variation across the sector. Data is collected for 28 sub-sectors based on size of vessel, equipment, engine power (kw) and the type of catch. The largest number of FTE jobs is in Pots and Traps on vessels under 10 metres, totalling 1054 with average FTE job earnings of £16,064.

At the other end of the scale North Sea beam trawl vessels over 300kw provided 232 FTE jobs with an average crew cost per vessel of £448,938. The FTE job crew member wage cost works out at £19,333. Typically the skipper takes the largest crew share of earnings and the engineer (on larger boats) comes next followed by deck hands on crew share. At the bottom of the pecking order are deck hands on agency contract.

Most fishermen are on crew share, which means they are self-employed and pay national insurance at self employed rates. Around 10% of FTE fishing employment is on agency contract.

Marine Scotland Science provides a useful example of how vessel earnings are distributed. A vessel with £30,000 gross earnings per month has variable costs for fuel, quota leasing, harbour dues etc. of £9,000. The remaining £21,000 is split between the boat and the crew. With £10.500 to share out the skipper gets 40% and the two deck hands on crew share 30%, two Deck hands on agency contract cost £1,100 each. This leaves £3320 for the skipper and the deck hands on crew share get £1245 each.

This example is based on 5 trips a month of 4 days duration – so is on one of the larger vessel categories. If this is an average monthly gross income the Skipper earns £39,840 a year, the share crew £14,940 each and the contract crew – £13,200 – less agency fees.

The boat share of £10,500 goes toward insurance, maintenance, legal fees, gear and vessel loans etc amounting to £8,000. This leaves an operating (gross) profit of £2,500 to the owner.

The boat owner makes a gross annual profit of £30,000. Typical net profit for the owner would be about £20,000. These figures do not indicate significant tax revenue after deduction of personal allowance and the £700 annual sea kit allowance available to self employed share fishermen.

Fish Brains

The silly stunt on the Thames last week illustrated how fishermen are being manipulated by Farage and Rees Mogg, for entirely different ends.

The media obliged and the stunt got the coverage with cameras booking a space on the boat. This dumping of fish is illegal and the environmental credentials of fishermen took a hit as they were wrong-footed over genuine concerns for the future of the industry.

The big problem is fishermen have chosen the wrong allies to advance their cause. They were sold out when the UK joined the EEC, history repeats and they have learned nothing.

Humans have the largest percentage of brain weight to body weight at 2.26%. Dolphins come in at 1.06% and Bass at 0.40%. Bass do not do a lot of thinking. The fact they are actually quite difficult to catch is that their brains are driven by instinct.

“What the bass has on its side isn’t intelligence, but a finely-tuned wariness for avoiding predators, and survival instincts that tell it what looks natural and what doesn’t in its own familiar environment. In the end, that’s the real battle: intelligence versus instinct.”

It is the higher level of neurological connectivity that scientists have discovered is the main factor behind brain capacity, communication and social skills in more developed species; humans, monkeys and dolphins, rather than brain weight to body weight.

Fishermen need new allies and to make worthwhile connections for political influence

Fishermen have skills; real experience of the marine environment; the ability to manage complex fishing gear and modern technology enabling them to locate their next catch. They are used to working in what is often a hostile and dangerous environment. In the political environment they seem like fish out of water and easily manipulated.

At sea they have acquired an instinct over threatening changes to conditions. Instinct should have cautioned them about the history of their non-existent political influence. A new generation of fishermen leaders thought it could not happen to them because they found a few on the margins of political influence, like 13 Scots Tory MPs, who were willing to listen to them then ran away.

Fishermen lost out in the allocation of quotas when the UK joined the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). It is only fair to point out that Scottish Ministers announced increased quotas jointly managed with Norway for whiting 38% increase, herring 25%, haddock 24% and cod 10% last December. Following a meeting later that month with the EU, Scotland gained further quotas due to fish stock recovery and the total increase in quotas has an estimated value of £440 million.

It is the connections that matter and Scottish fishermen have not fully understood they are in the food business. They are just a part of the seafood chain that includes the processing industry, the aquaculture sector and the branding of Scottish quality produce. The Tories have swallowed them whole and spat them out, as they have done before and will continue to do.

Owners of the larger boats are the ones who account for the large catches much of it landed directly in Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. They are the ones who will probably continue to vote Tory in the hope of bigger quotas. But they did influence their communities where the links with the sea and fishing are strong. Their objectives do not match the interests of onshore fish businesses in coastal communities or the majority of fishermen operating from smaller boats.

A small number of fishermen have significant earnings. The majority do not as the net income per vessel distribution to individuals means many will pay little or no tax.

Given the above analysis of fishermen incomes it is worth noting that most Scottish fishermen will pay less tax this year under the new Scottish government tax rates than fishermen in other parts of the UK.

This is intended to be the first article in a series. Future articles will look at the aquaculture and processing sectors