Fishing community's health and wellbeing needs to be at the centre of Brexit response – new report

A new report highlights the importance of protecting the wellbeing of Welsh fishing communities as they face up to the uncertainty and potential detrimental economic impact of Brexit.

The publication, co-authored by Public Health Wales and the Mental Health Foundation, identifies the health and wellbeing impacts of the many challenges and uncertainties facing fishing communities in Wales. These longstanding issues are likely to be further exacerbated by Brexit, bringing an extra source of stress to over 800 workers and their families.

The report calls for more action to prevent uncertainty occurring in the first place, to protect against the negative impact on mental wellbeing, and to promote health and wellbeing in Wales’ fishing communities. Good health, the report argues, is critical to those working in the sector to maintain viable livelihoods for their families.

Dr Alisha Davies, Head of Research and Evaluation at Public Health Wales, said: “For generations our fishing and coastal communities have responded to hardship by drawing on their own considerable strengths. However, the focus on their health and wellbeing is often not prioritised.

“Our new report highlights that – while Brexit is a concern – there are many other challenges in fishing today, and it is this accumulation of adversity which puts undue pressure on the fishing community.

“We need to work with fishing communities to better coordinate support, integrate health, and encourage early access to help when needed.”

The report considers the cumulative impact of uncertainty and economic factors on the wellbeing needs of the fishing and coastal communities. Dominated by small vessels with a limited coastal range, the Welsh fishing fleet is export-dependent and relies on seamless trade routes with over 90 per cent of its sales of fresh and live produce going to the European Union.

These dependencies leave the sector extremely vulnerable to economic fluctuations, which is a cause of increasing anxiety to individuals that work in the sea fish and shellfish sector in Wales.

Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director of Mental Health Foundation for Wales and England said: “Our research comes at an important point in time, when financial uncertainty and family pressures are at a peak for fishing communities in Wales. 

“It is a stark reminder that national plans sometimes neglect the impact on mental health for professionals and communities who face vulnerabilities.

“But it also provides a new contribution of evidence on how we can prevent important health problems for fishermen and their families, and how we can implement plans to improve wellbeing which will have wider positive impacts on business and resilience.” 

In the report those working in the fishing industry and support organisations talk openly about their key concerns regarding the viability of fishing as a business. These include financial pressures, regulatory and administrative burdens, limited control over fisheries management and national policy decisions, sustainability of the industry, and the importance of maintaining good health.

The report outlines a series of recommendations informed by the fishing community in Wales. These include: simplifying administrative processes; co-producing policies and a viable vision for the future of Welsh fishing; championing the Welsh fishing sector; promoting Welsh produce; visible enforcement of health & safety regulations; and ensuring fishermen have better access to health and wellbeing services.

Welcoming the report, Chrissy King, Port Officer, Fishermen’s Mission said: “As a fishing community we have a strong tradition of giving our neighbours practical physical help like lending a hand, when we see they need that help.

“Increasing awareness and support for fishermen’s mental health and well-being is important, timely and relevant.”

The report concludes that public health approach informed by the best available evidence, and co-produced with the fishing community, is the only sustainable way to help build resilience in the sector and address the key issues of mental health and wellbeing.