Tourism offers lifeline to fishing communities

06/06/05

Many of Britain's traditional fishing communities are turning to tourism in an attempt to offset economic decline and to preserve links with their heritage, a study has found.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne surveyed North Sea fishing towns and witnessed the emergence of a 'virtual' fishing industry where new developments and events branded with a fishing 'icon' may offer a greater source of income than fishing itself.

But the team also warns that towns risk becoming fishing 'theme parks' if developments are not carried out carefully and in consultation with the local community.

The European Union-funded study, published in the academic journal Fisheries Research*, focused on four UK towns: North Shields in Tyne and Wear, Shetland and Peterhead in Northern Scotland, and Lowestoft in East Anglia. It used various data sources from government departments and other organisations and interviews with a wide range of industry representatives.

Three of the four towns Peterhead, Lowestoft and North Shields - were making attempts to develop the tourist industry and had already made progress with this. By contrast, Shetland had taken few steps in this direction, probably because its fishing industry is still very profitable.

Researchers observed that tourism was of increasing importance to Lowestoft and North Shields because they could no longer rely on fishing as a major source of income and thus needed to promote greater economic diversification. In both towns, there were several examples where fishing heritage was being used as a hook to attract visitors.

In North Shields, where only an estimated 70 active fishers remain and the amount of fish landed at the port has decreased steadily, the annual Fish Quay Festival aims to promote the town's fishing identity. A Fish Quay regeneration strategy has been devised by the local council, in which the fishing industry is used as a unifying motif in plans for recreation and living spaces and nightlife such as bars and restaurants.

In Lowestoft, where, the study noted, some interviewees expressed 'a sense of resignation that the fishing industry in the town is destined for a slow and steady decline', there has also been investment in a tourist economy linked to its fishing heritage. The research paper cites examples such as the East Coast Regatta, which incorporates displays of classic fishing vessels, the Lowestoft Fish Fayre, and the 'Lowestoft Story', an interactive exhibition which describes the evolution of the town's fishing industry.

Professor Tim Gray, of Newcastle University's School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, led the research. He said: "Many of the smaller fishing communities have been unable to compete in an increasingly globalised fishing industry and it's become an economic necessity for them to diversify and find other sources of income, such as tourism.

"Although fishing activity has decreased in these towns, they still have a strong attachment to their fishing heritage and are keen to exploit this and use it as a marketing tool to reel visitors in."

Prof Gray added: "Capitalising on a town's fishing heritage provides it with an identity as well as an economy. However, developers should be careful not to turn towns into glorified fishing 'theme parks'. There's little evidence of this at the moment and it should be avoided if projects are carried out carefully and involve consultation with fishers and their families."

Paul Williams, technology and training director for the Sea Fish Industry Authority, said: "The fishing industry can enhance tourist appeal in towns and it's all revenue that benefits the local community and gives many fishermen an additional income.

"Many shellfish and inshore ports are continuing to thrive. One area where conservation, tourism and industry work seamlessly is The National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow, Cornwall. The centre provides a fascinating learning environment while securing the future stock for Cornish fishermen as part of a sustained response to ecological and economic demands.

"There is a huge potential for fishing and tourism links. As well as fishing communities servicing tourist trips, there is also a supply of good quality, fresh seafood straight off the quayside and into the hotels and restaurants, which is a magnet for food lovers. The seafood industry in the UK remains vibrant with a great future."

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