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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 2021. This is the first data reflecting the impact of the UK leaving the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) on the fisheries industry. However, comparisons with 2020 will be impacted by the pandemic, which disrupted both fishing activity in the UK and the UK and export markets, especially hospitality.

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, in 2021, the sector contributed around 0.03% of total UK economic output and around 5% of the broader agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.

In 2020, just under 70% 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 £483 million in 2021, up from £458 million in 2020, but lower than the £536 million reported in 2019.

Seafish explained that fishing businesses’ operating profits rose in 2021 compared to 2020, but remained lower than profits recorded in 2019.

Employment and fleet size

The total number of fishers in the UK was around 11,000 in 2021, down from around 20,000 in the mid-1990s. In 2021, 53% of fishers were based in England and Wales, 40% in Scotland, and 8% in Northern Ireland.

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

Fishers in the UK


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 2021 than in 2020 (+5%) after falling by about 11% between 2018-19. This initial reduction was mostly explained by reduced landings of pelagic fish, which have recovered since. Shellfish landings dipped in 2020 but increased again in 2021. The value of landings by the UK fleet increased in recent years to just over £1 billion in 2018, before falling to £831 million in 2020 and increasing again to £921 million in 2021. 

landing of fish in UK


The UK is a net importer of fish and related products, with net imports of around 427,000 tonnes in 2021, worth £1.7 billion.

imports and exports of fish

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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