Fishing and Cornwall’s economy: why County Hall needs to change direction

Posted By on 17th January 2024

By Julia Penhaligon

A long-awaited report on the value of fishing to Cornwall’s economy has found the sector contributes more than £174 million and provides nearly 8,000 jobs – suggesting the industry is far more important than local policy-makers had previously claimed.

The document could be controversial because of the way it occasionally conflates fishing interests with those of tourism.  Critics point to former fishermen’s cottages, now converted into second-homes, and say the two industries are not the same.

The 76-page report was commissioned by the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation with support from Cornwall Council, Defra, the Marine Management Organisation and other consultants.  You can download the report here:Value of Seafood to Cornwall

The document has been published soon after a 174-page County Hall report on tourism, which concluded that holidaymakers contribute £952 million per year.

While this is five times greater than the value of fishing, it is less than half the frequently quoted £2 billion a year claimed by the tourism sector’s backers.

Local councillors, MPs and other policymakers are supposed to consider objectively the costs and benefits of various competing interests when they consider public subsidies.

Even if tourism is today five times as important as fishing, holidaymakers and second-home owners benefit from far more than five times any public subsidies available for fishing.

Huge infrastructure costs which benefit tourists fall exclusively on local residents.  Almost all of Cornwall Council’s so-called “economic development” is geared towards tourism.

One example is the council’s £430,000 annual subsidy for second home owners to fly between Newquay and Gatwick.  If this cash was spent instead on improved distribution from fishing ports it would create more jobs in Cornwall.

But fishing, particularly now that Britain is out of the European Union, risks being neglected – so much so that some aspects of the new report suggest it should be seen as simply part of Cornwall’s “tourism offer.”

Cornwall is home to more seafood restaurants than anywhere else in the country outside of London.  According to the report, 16% of Cornwall’s table-service restaurants (not including fish and chip shops) specialise in seafood.

The new study concludes that the seafood sector made £174m in 2021 and employed about 8,000 people around the county in a variety of roles including fishing, processing and restaurants.

The tourism report also claims those restaurant jobs, a classic example of “double-counting” which results overall in a false picture of what Cornwall’s economy really looks like.

Chris Ranford, chief executive officer of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, said: "The symbiotic relationship between fishing, hospitality and tourism is completely unique to Cornwall.

"It's something we can all be proud of and make sure we're protecting and enhancing for future generations."

Malcolm Bell, from Visit Cornwall, said: "Seafood is a key part of the Cornish brand. When you think of Cornwall, you think of the food as much as the destination.

"Holidaying in Cornwall and eating Cornish seafood are one and the same so it's vital we protect the fishing and seafood industry.

"Without them Cornwall's tourism economy wouldn't perform as well."

Newlyn is the busiest port in the county, landing more than £30m of shellfish and other fish in 2021.

Crab valued at more than £6m was caught in the same year, making it the most lucrative catch.

The report follows the CFPO’s 2021 Cornish Fishing Strategy.  Its aim was to “refocus the strategic vision” for the Cornish seafood industry post Brexit.

It highlighted four key areas - science & sustainability, ports infrastructure, recruitment & retention and communications & marketing.

It will be fascinating to see if Cornwall Council’s “economic development” chiefs can now wean themselves off high-risk tourism gambles – such as last year’s £600,000 military parade in Falmouth – and find money instead to help lower the costs of fishing and promote the local food source as a benefit to local residents.

This article has 3 comments

  1. Newlyn is an increasingly thriving port having been brought back from the brink by savvy investment in newer safer vessels and port improvements which render it the only show in town economically in West Penwith that offers employment opportunities at decent wage levels that are not tourism related.

    What is really needed is the courage and foresight to proceed with the proposed new deepwater harbour complex at Sandy Cove served by a new road link to the A30 that would remove thought traffic from the centre of Newlyn and Paul Hill which is a tragedy waiting to happen.

    As a former vice chair of Newlyn Harbour Commission I was party to this proposal worked up over time but pointedly ignored by Cornwall Council in favour of ”wave hubs” ”space ports” and failing property investment initiatives.

    In Newlyn there are already employment opportunities with great potential for expansion given the facilities needed to properly service the modern deeper drafted vessels that struggle with the depth of water in the present harbour meaning that they have to go to Holland or Scotland for repairs that should be done in the port.

  2. Unless I’m misreading this report, the restaurant/fish and chip shop contribution is 80% of the employment claimed. The picture I come away with is of a sector which is primarily driven by tourism. This is fine but it really does look as though if you took tourism away, this industry would be a shadow of itself. All this goes to show how deceptive tourism is. I would be interested to see a similar study of how dependent our agricultural and yachting sectors are on tourism as well.

    • I don’t think you are misreading the report – you have identified the seriousness of the double-counting in terms of economic GVA. It would be a bit of a stretch to suggest that only tourists eat fish, or that without tourists Cornwall would have no restaurants. A Cornwall Council rule which insisted that at least 20% of “investment” in tourism should be spent on fishing would be interesting.

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