Your Rye News reporter made a telephone round-up of the Rye fish merchants this week to find out how this local industry is responding to the twin challenges of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic and I spoke first with John Botterell, seafood wholesaler, of Harbour Road, Rye Harbour.
He told me: “We’ve seen a few weeks of bad weather recently so there has not been so much in the way of landings. Some people may have attributed the recent decline in sales volumes to Brexit, but I see it as more relevant to Covid- 19, which has hit the hospitality industry throughout Europe.
“Demand is on the floor at present but when it opens up, exports of Rye catch will resume not just to the French and Belgian markets via Boulogne and Zeebrugge, but also to Madrid, Rome and Naples as before.
“There is huge demand for fish from British waters which continental Europe cannot satisfy by itself. Meanwhile, attention is turning locally to the English market; new outlets are opening up all the time, often combined with farm shops. The British public is being much more adventurous and supporting small fleet fishing particularly in coastal areas.
When the going gets tough
“The scallop season is here with two or three boats operating out of Rye, though Rye Bay Scallop Week was prevented from happening this year. Plaice stocks are good and sole will follow shortly. Things are not easy, but we need we need to be optimistic and keep functioning when the going gets tough.”
Next I spoke with Andrew Knight of Market Fisheries at Simmonds Quay, Rock Channel and asked him what difference Brexit has made to local business. He responded that it had taken a while to get to grips with the new paperwork, with the need for separate certification for each journey, but the procedure was quite straightforward.
They were continuing to export three truckloads per week into France without problems, although the longer journey time to Belgium is uneconomic at currently prevailing prices. He expected demand to pick up when lockdown restrictions were eased.
This view was shared by Keith Chapman, managing director of Chapmans of Rye Ltd, also located at Rock Channel. The company operates locally as ‘boat agent’ for the fishermen, which means selling the catch on their behalf, much of it for export. The company cannot operate to full potential whilst the hospitality industry is in lockdown but, come April or May, there should be strengthening of demand and better prices for the fishermen. “We’ve put the systems in place for when the market opens up and we’re raring to go,” he said.
Brexit did not bring hoped for changes
“Not a lot has changed as a result of Brexit” he declared. “With a lot of research beforehand, we have been reasonably successful with exporting. However, the fishermen have not been given the deal they were led to expect and my sympathies are with them.” Their hopes for a 12 mile exclusion zone have not been realised, and there is no sign that quotas will be changed for the better any time soon.
The prosperity of the local fishing industry, with its two dozen or so working boats, will remain dependent upon exporting to Europe, because a lot of fish caught in Rye Bay is not always marketable in the UK. The need is acknowledged though to expand sales into the UK market, a course being actively pursued.
My final call was to Shane Haddon of Rye Bay Fish, located by the Salts at Monkbretton Bridge. He apologised for not being able to comment owing to pressure of business that morning. That was encouraging.
Image Credits: Rye News library .