News: Use your local chippy to save our fishing fleets: Sir Barney White-Spunner

14 April 2020

Amid our country’s heroic efforts to defeat coronavirus, we must not forget what will come once the crisis has abated. As 35 years in the British Army taught me, to win the war you need to win the peace.

The fishing industry that I now serve will have an essential role to play as we re-examine our national food supply strategy and question the extent to which we have become reliant on imports to feed the nation.

Nowhere will this be more true than Yorkshire and the Humber, a region whose fishing heritage stretches back for generations.

Even before the word “coronavirus” entered our vocabulary, we were starting to see such a debate in a Brexit context.  But that debate will become irrelevant if we do not move now to preserve what is left of the fishing industry here.

A crusade is needed to buy fish and chips - after coronavirus - to support the fishing industry.

With export markets virtually evaporated and lockdowns severely impacting crew movements and logistics, hundreds of vessels are tied up in harbours along our coastline.

Of course, this situation has its parallels in many of our land-based firms, but the sad truth is that our fishing industry is more vulnerable than most, and it is not receiving government support in the same way.

While income streams have dried up completely, running costs have not, with insurance and maintenance charges, harbour fees and other industry-specific burdens all taking a heavy toll.

Assistance from the UK government’s Small Business Grant Fund is based on rateable value. Neither this nor Business Rates Relief will be of help to many fishermen.

Environment Secretary GFeorge Eustice is being urged to do more to support the fishing industry in line with the devolved administrations.

So while seafront businesses in Scarborough, Whitby or Bridlington will deservedly be helped to ride out the storm, the fishermen who work from those harbours will, as things stand, not benefit in the same way.

Further afield, the European Commission has been swift to act, as have some of the devolved nations, offering legislative and financial support to their fishermen.

The Scottish government has promised funds to support its seafood processors and owners of smaller vessels, and in Northern Ireland the legislature is to pay monthly grants to vessel owners.  

But English fishermen are in limbo, unable to work but also unsure as to what other action they can take as they desperately seek to preserve their livelihoods. So I urge the Treasury to act quickly and decisively and launch through Defra an equitable, nationwide scheme that would match or go beyond those of the devolved administrations.

UK Fisheries, whose Advisory Board I chair, is fortunate in that we have thus far been able to continue fishing for cod and haddock in the sustainable distant waters in and around the Barents Sea.

The loyal and dedicated crew of our freezer vessel Kirkella were recently to have enjoyed some shore leave, but since the pandemic has made crew changes impossible they have agreed to another back-to-back trip that could keep them away from their families for a total of three months – all in order that we should continue to bring home delicious white fish for our national dish.

But these efforts, too, might be in vain if we no longer have fish and chip shops operating on our high streets. Sadly we have seen hundreds close their doors – some perhaps permanently – as local footfall has all but ceased. Some entrepreneurial chippies are offering a delivery or a phone-and-collect service, but this accounts for only a fraction of their normal income.

I would urge every reader of The Yorkshire Post to use their local chippy as much as it is safe to do so. Most of those that are open allow only one customer in at a time, helping everyone comply with essential social-distancing guidelines.

Fish and chips was never rationed during the Second World War, and once again British-caught fish can help us through a time of crisis. But for it to do this, we must protect our industry now and in the future.  

Recently, the Norwegian government recognised the “critical function” to society of fisheries, and I believe Defra Secretary George Eustice should make a similar declaration.

We need to send a clear message to coastal communities that we recognise their importance to our economy, our food supply and to the nation as a whole. If we can do so, we will have the thanks of generations to come, who will remember the 2020 pandemic as a new beginning for our industry.

Sir Barney White-Spunner is the Advisory Board chairman of UK Fisheries.

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

Almost certainly you are here because you value the quality and the integrity of the journalism produced by The Yorkshire Post’s journalists - almost all of which live alongside you in Yorkshire, spending the wages they earn with Yorkshire businesses - who last year took this title to the industry watchdog’s Most Trusted Newspaper in Britain accolade.

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Sincerely. Thank you.

James Mitchinson




Kirkella tour
Kirkella in Hull
Kirkella on the Humber
Kirkella Port 2
Kirkella Bow 2
Kirkella Birdseye 2
Kirkella Naming Ceremony and VIP Reception
Kirkella lunch party at Cutty Sark Museum
Kirkella Great British Fish & Chips event at Greenwich
Kirkella speech by HRH The Princess Royal
Kirkella passing through Tower Bridge
Kirkella BBC News
HRH The Princess Royal names Kirkella
Kirkella cutaway animation
Sir Barney White-Spunner, UK Fisheries Ltd, Interview
Kirkella General Tour
Kirkella Factory Tour


Kirkella trawling
Kirkella on Humber
Kirkella drone footage
Kirkella drone footage
Kirkella drone footage
The Kirkella Naming celebration lunch at the Cutty Sark Museum
The Fish Fryers free fish & chip event at Cutty Sark Gardens for 2,500 locals
The City of Hull Brass Band at Cutty Sark Gardens
Sir Barney White-Spunner, Chairman of the Advisory Board, UK Fisheries, at the Kirkella Naming celebration dinner at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Kirkella sailing upstream through Tower Bridge
Kirkella sailing downstream through Tower Bridge
HRH The Princess Royal with Graham Barney, Factory Manager, Kirkella
HRH The Princess Royal with Charlie Waddy, First Mate, on the bridge of Kirkella
HRH The Princess Royal unveiling a model of Kirkella presented by UK Fisheries to the National Maritime Museum
HRH The Princess Royal Naming Kirkella at Greenwich
HRH The Princess Royal meeting Stig Maersk, Musical Director, and players in the City of Hull Brass Band
HRH The Princess Royal making her address at the Kirkella Naming Ceremony in Greenwich
2,500 local people in Greenwich enjoying free Kirkella-caught cod & chips
Sir Barney White-Spunner, Chairman of the Advisory Board, UK Fisheries Ltd
UK Fisheries infographic
Kirkella poster
Cutaway illustration of Kirkella
UK Fisheries Ltd logo