Coronavirus could see hundreds of fishermen “go bust in the next two weeks” unless there is urgent government intervention, ministers have been warned.
The industry has been rocked in recent days as demand from export markets and the domestic restaurant trade has dried up due to the outbreak.
Labour’s shadow environment minister Ruth Jones, speaking in the Commons, warned without government help the whole sector could be in danger.
She said: “I have spoken to fishers and their representative organisations right across the UK in recent days and they are worried.
“In just the last week the market value of fish landed by British fishers has fallen in value to 20% of normal rates.
“There are significant concerns about the viability of the UK fishing industry, especially small boats, which are the backbone of the British fleet.
“Many fishers are telling us they will go bust in the next two weeks.
“Does the Secretary of State agree with me that we must take whatever steps necessary to support fishers and the fishing industry to cope with the pressures of the Covid-19 crisis.”
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the best way to help fishermen was to “get the markets moving again”.
He added: “Officials had meetings yesterday with fishing representatives, I’m looking for some feedback from that to agree what we will do next.”
Mr Eustice later faced questions over the resilience of the supply chain, given the scenes in supermarkets in recent days.
He said: “There isn’t a shortage of food, the challenge that we’ve had is getting food to shelves in time when people have been purchasing more.
“That’s why we have taken steps including setting aside delivery curfews so that lorries can run around the clock, relaxing driver hours to ensure the deliveries can take place more frequently and we are in discussions with other Government colleagues in MHCLG around other support that we would deliver locally to get food to those who are self isolating.”
Mr Eustice also ruled out enforcing social distancing measures in supermarkets.
“We will not do that measure”, he said.
“It was something that was done in Italy, with a restriction on the number of people in stores and what they found was they just had hundreds of people huddled together at the entrance to the store and it’s counterproductive.”