Curbs make `rise in fish prices inevitable' `bound to go up

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The Independent Online

The bright white lights of Billingsgate fish market shone out at dawn yesterday, but inside the atmosphere was distinctly gloomy.

"It's dreadful," said Cyril Duffy, of Nathan Ltd, who sells the fish most affected - plaice, haddock, cod and sole. "Our prices are bound to go up. And it won't just be us that suffers. The prices will go up for everyone, including the public."

Tony Lynes, chairman-elect of the London Fish Merchants Association, said: "There's going to be a reduced volume and prices will go up. Then the fear is that the public won't buy it because they are not prepared to pay. There is no argument about the fact we need quotas. Our argument is about the way they've gone about it.

"What really upset me this week over the fishing row is that it became a way of scoring political points," he added. "Everyone forgot about the real issue which is how are our fishermen going to earn a living. The fishermen are poor relatives of the farmers. They don't get set-asides or any other of the protections."

Chris Leftwich, chief inspector of the Fishmongers' Company, agreed: "Everyone accepts sensible controls," he said. "But they could organise things better. Discards mean that fishermen throw different types of fish back into the sea so they don't go over their quota of landed fish. But the fish are already dead so it's not doing any good."

The main target for their vitriol was not, however, the Government or the EU, but the Spanish and French fishermen, who were widely seen as contravening the guidelines.

"The problem is that the Spanish and French will come into the Irish Box and go for juvenile fish," said Simon Newnes, of CJ Newnes. "There's a big market for small fish in Spain. You'll see them with John Dorys no bigger than four inches. How can stock ever replenish if they take those?"

"The price of fish depends on supply and demand," said Steve Hatt, of Steve Hatt Fishmongers. "Obviously there will be cuts and a tendency to put up prices. It's simple mathematics."

Others were not so pessimistic. Geoffrey Molloy, of the UK Association of Frozen Food Producers, said cod prices were unlikely to be affected because more than 80 per cent of British cod was imported.

The UK, as the world's cod-eating capital, takes 25 per cent of the total international catch, but only fishes 5 per cent of the species itself.

"The housewife won't see very much difference in price because, over the years, we have become increasingly dependent on imports," Mr Molloy said.

"Of the total amount of fresh and frozen fish eaten in the UK, about two-thirds is imported while about 70 per cent of white fish [cod and haddock] is imported, mainly from countries like Canada, Greenland and Iceland."

Other species caught in UK waters which are affected by quotas, such as herring and mackerel, are not particularly popular in Britain and tended to be exported to countries like France and Spain, he said.

John Adams, of the National Federation of Fishmongers, also believed huge price increases were unlikely.

"In the final analysis there is a limit to what the customer is prepared to pay," he said.

"If, for example, cod sells now for pounds 2.50 a pound and the quota is dropped by a half, it does not mean that customers are going to pay pounds 5 a pound. They obviously won't . . . Customers are very price sensitive."