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This briefing paper examines trends in the UK fisheries industry, including landings, employment, fleet size, trade, economic output and comparisons with EU countries up to the end of 2020. The UK was still part of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) at this point, therefore EU rules and catch allocations still applied. Any impact of the UK leaving the CFP on the fisheries industry will not be reflected in the data until 2021.

The commercial fisheries industry in the UK is made up of three sectors: fishing (inshore and offshore fishing), aquaculture (fish farming) and fish processing (preparing fish for food consumption).

Economic output

Official statistics on economic output of the fishing industry are volatile and can be significantly revised from year to year. According to the ONS, between 2018 and 2020, the sector contributed around 0.03% of total UK economic output and around 5% of the broader agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.

In 2019, 61% of economic output from the fishing and aquaculture industry was generated in Scotland.

Seafish, a non-departmental public body representing the seafood industry, estimated that economic output in the sector was £433 million in 2020, down from £536 million in 2019..

Seafish explained that fishing businesses’ operating profits fell in 2020, largely caused by a drop in income as both fishing activity and prices fell during the pandemic.

Employment and fleet size

The total number of fishers in the UK was around 11,000 in 2020, down from around 20,000 in the mid-1990s. In 2020, 43% of fishers were based in England, 42% in Scotland, 8% in Northern Ireland and 7% in Wales.

The number of fishing vessels in the UK fleet has fallen by 33% since 1996.

Number of fishers

Landings

UK vessels land around 400,000 tonnes of fish each year in the UK, and between 200,000 and 300,000 tonnes abroad.

Landings by the UK fleet were higher in 2020 than in 2019 (+0.2%) after falling by about 11% compared with 2018. While reduced landings of pelagic fish explained most of the initial reduction, in 2020 landings of this type of fish increased while other landings reduced. The value of landings by the UK fleet increased in recent years to just over £1 billion in 2018, before reducing to £831 million in 2020.

Landings

Trade

The UK is a net importer of fish and related products, with net imports of around 362,000 tonnes in 2020, worth £1.7 billion.

Trade

International comparisons

In 2019, the UK fleet had the second-largest total catch (in terms of landed weight) and the second-largest fleet size (in gross tonnage terms) compared with EU countries.

Fish processing

There were 348 fish processing sites in the UK in 2020. Fish processing sites accounted for 17,988 full-time equivalent jobs. The fish processing industry is concentrated in the Humber and the Grampians.


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