Trawlermen fear ruin as EC tightens the net: The fishermen of Whitby can talk of little but the grim days that lie ahead, Malcolm Pithers reports

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FISHERMEN standing on the dockside at Whitby in the early hours before the morning fish market begins have a look of dejection on their faces. There was a time when the market was thriving, alive with men talking of their catches and of the trips awaiting them.

Nowadays, those who stand clasping mugs of warm tea talk more of how long they will be laid up and of the certainty that this time next year there will be fewer of them. They also know that those still at work will be forced to spend fewer days out at sea.

Fishermen everywhere are having to come to terms with new regulations, EC fish quotas and the prospect of losing their livelihoods during 1993. The quotas were applied to conserve North Sea fish stocks but fishermen now believe they are too severe and will ruin an already troubled industry. The men of Whitby have already organised two blockades of their harbour and more are planned for the new year.

One man who has spent more than 24 years at sea and whose father and grandfather all sailed from Whitby is now certain that his children will not be able to continue the tradition. 'It's over. There's nothing anyone can do about it. It really is the end of the line. Now they are just tightening the noose,' he said.

EC regulations mean that fishermen from Whitby with craft over 10 metres are now banned from catching cod, sole and whiting because their quota of catches is deemed to be complete as it stands. This means that fishing crews in such places have no alternative but to tie up for days on end, losing thousands of pounds. There is even talk of new tie-up times amounting to 10 consecutive days a month. Willie Hay, president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, believes the EC is determined to manage the fishing industry by limiting the number of days spent at sea rather than by simply setting fishing quotas.

Fishing News, the newspaper of the fishing industry, says the industry is in the 'greatest turmoil it has ever seen,' beset with a bewildering mass of regulations.

The effect of all this is that many fishermen in Whitby, an area already facing high unemployment, will be forced out of business.

Chris Bellchamber, 36, has spent 21 years fishing in the North Sea from Whitby. His pounds 190,000 vessel, the Opportune, has recently had to undergo extensive engine repairs. 'That is costing a lot of time and money. Now with this enforced lay-up it means my livelihood is at risk.

'Men cannot carry on here with this kind of restriction. The foreigners are breaking the rules all the time. They don't care about the quotas and declare a lot less. We do not do that and we suffer for it. I just don't know what the future holds for us,' he said.

The regulations mean that some boats have to tie up for 135 days a year, or change their net sizes. Andy Pearson, who helps run a fish selling agency in Whitby, says: 'Men just cannot be laid up for this length of time. All the expenses carry on and they all have mortgages on their boats.'

Further down the coast, at Lowestoft, boat auctions are already under way with fishermen seeing their craft sold by receivers. The list of such craft is long and the men of Whitby know they may well be facing the auctioneer's hammer in 1993.

(Photograph omitted)