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Thursday, 28 August 2014

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Funding boost for ports revamp

BRITAIN’S Energy Coast partners are backing a major initiative aimed at reviving the main fishing ports and communities along a 65-mile stretch of coastline from Ravenglass to Silloth.

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COASTAL PLAN: Members of West Cumbria Fisheries Local Action Group, Copeland Borough Council and the Marine Management Organisation at Whitehaven harbour JOHN STORY REF: 50026954W000

Some £1.35m has been made available from the European Fisheries Fund and Defra but there is a prospect of matched funding from several other sources such as BEC and the Copeland Community Fund.

The aim is that it will help the main ports of Whitehaven, Workington, Maryport and Silloth build a more sustainable future.

A wide range of projects are being drawn up which it is envisaged will revitalise an industry which has been in general decline.

The projects will be delivered through the recent launch of a new organisation called FLAG – Local Action Group comprising all the interested parties.

All the main West and North Cumbria ports will benefit from what is likely to provide matched funding from other sources such as Britain’s Energy Coast and Copeland Community Fund.

Whitehaven’s own historic harbour could also be transformed even further.

Celia MacKenzie, Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners chief executive, says: “We are sure that the FLAG will begin to deliver a better future for all those involved in fishing around our coastline.

“The ambition is to add value to the fish landed and processed on this coast through better knowledge and development of the local markets.

“We will also be supporting opportunities for diversification. We want the fishing communities to actively take part in the operation of the FLAG.”

Already one idea being considered is the possibility of a flagship seafood restaurant similar to Rick Stein’s on the Cornish coast at Padstow.

Says Celia: “Any restaurant of this type along the North and West Cumbrian coast will just strengthen the whole of the industry. There is hardly anything in the area that wouldn’t benefit. This is one of the big projects we would love someone to take up the baton and promote.”

It is hoped that a celebrity chef such as Jean Christophe Novelli might be interested.

Celia confides: “We’ve actually talked to Jean Christophe but I am leaving any further discussion on that to the Whitehaven Festival Company to see if they want to discuss and promote the idea. It would be absolutely fantastic if anything were to come of it.

“Over the last few years I’ve pestered Jean Christophe to make sure he uses local produce and fish in some of his cookery demonstrations, he’s been very accommodating.

“We have some very exciting projects already coming together which will help us market locally caught fish in much the same way as we see fell bred lamb and beef on the menus of hotels and restaurants in Cumbria as a whole. There are so few wet fish shops in the county that one idea is to introduce some fish markets in much the same way as the farmers’ markets.”

Whitehaven-based trawlerman Ron Graham, who represents the north west region of the National Federation Fisherman’s Association, said: “The funding is intended to support fishing communities in decline. The option of doing nothing at all is not an option.

“We have to use this money to our best advantage. It will mean thinking outside the box to make things work for us.”

Ron, who is also secretary of the Whitehaven Fishermen’s Association, explains: “One of the reasons for the decline is the significant difference in the sale price of fish landed straight off the boats and what it’s sold for in the supermarkets. We need to bridge the gap by doing some of the work done at present by the middlemen.

“One of the envisaged ‘tide turners’ is the setting up of a fishermen’s co-operative which would have bigger selling power by selling catches in bigger numbers fetching better-off-the-boat prices.”

It is also hoped a fishermen’s co-operative linked to the funding could attract firms to establish fish processing plants in West Cumbria providing a profitable spin off.

Whitehaven alone has lost 10 boats in the last 10 years as profits plummeted.

At present 78 fishing vessels are registered as having West Cumbria as their home location and last year more than 4100 tonnes of fish were landed in FLAG areas yielding over £4.4m.

Through various projects brought forward by the community the funding aim is to sustain the existing fishing industry creating new businesses, create new jobs and provide educational opportunities.

Celia points out: “There is so much people in the local fishing communities can do to help decide how we can spend the money maintaining the coastline and anything at all to help our fishing communities stay on their own two feet.

“Anything we can do to improve the livelihood of fishermen and arrest the decline of the industry has to be good, reversing it even better. Our potential matched funders are very enthusiastic about strengthening the economy in this part of the world away from the nuclear industry. There has also been private sector interest in front-line fish processing which would be very exciting as this would also bring some job opportunities.

“There are about 20 businesses in this region which need support to stop their decline any further. As well as being able to retain staff we are looking at the moment of around 20 to 30 new jobs created over the next three years but overall this is an industry which has badly wanted investment for so long.”

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