A report released this week by maritime charity Seafarers UK shines a light on the precarious financial situation of seafarers earning a living from small-scale fishing – and offers proposals on how to improve matters.
Based on research conducted in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University, the report uncovers an array of different stressors on coastal fishers, noting that financial troubles are often the root cause of mental health problems and relationship difficulties.
This challenging reality has been thrown into stark relief by the events of 2020, a year in which the usual uncertainty of earning a living from inshore fishing was struck by the economically devastating Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of hospitality and export markets to sell fresh fish.
The researchers recorded the financial problems experienced by 431 fishers and their families who had reached out for help from maritime welfare charities such as SAIL (Seafarers' Advice & Information Line), the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society, and Seafarers' Hospital Society, and carried out further interviews with fishers from around the UK. The data revealed that amongst 140 working fishers contributing to the study, 63% had sought help with debt problems.
A boat owner interviewed for the report explained one of the issues with some fishers' financial capability and money management: 'The problem is not always low wages; fishermen can earn quite good wages. It is the way people manage their money that is the problem. They don't seem to be able to plan or save or look after their money. Then they have nothing to fall back on.'
To improve the financial resilience of fishing families around the UK, the report puts forward a set of recommendations for government, charity and industry. Key proposed actions include: boosting financial literacy in fishing communities to improve financial planning; improving government welfare support by plugging gaps in the current system that disadvantage fishers; offering access to savings and affordable credit from a credit union; and providing support with budgeting for tax and pensions.
The report Fishing without a Safety Net: The Financial Resilience of Small-Scale Coastal Fishers, their Families and Communities will be launched at a free, open-to-all digital event on 8 October 2020 at 10:00 hrs. The event will feature an address from fisheries minister Victoria Prentis MP, and Seafarers UK will be taking questions from attendees.