Positive returns for Dutch cutter fisheries, but prospects uncertain

Published on
April 25, 2019

The Dutch fisheries sector as a whole ended 2018 with a positive return of 81 million euros, 8 million euros less than in 2017. The net profit of the cutter fisheries fleet decreased by 13% in 2018 to around €54 million. Higher oil prices had a negative effect on profits. The results were announced this afternoon in the ‘Fisheries in figures’ presentation by Wageningen Economic Research (WUR).

Catches of plaice and sole were lower in 2018 than in the previous year, but this was partially compensated for through higher prices. The shrimp catch was almost double that of 2017, but the lower landing price meant that shrimp revenues were about the same.

Bedrijfsresultaten kottervisserij

(net results: cutter fishery)

Since 2015, strong yields have enabled businesses to invest in major overhauls, improvements, acquisitions and new-build vessels. Total investment in the cutter fisheries sector is estimated at 43 million euros for 2018.

Major changes are on the horizon and these are causing high levels of uncertainty in the fisheries sector. Fishers are braced for a storm of curtailing measures which include Brexit, a ban on pulse fishing, a ban on discarding, conservation areas and the development of offshore wind farms.

Cutter fisheries sector – lower catches of plaice and sole, decreased net profit. The cutter fisheries sector's total landings increased in 2018 by around 6 million kg (+8%) compared to 2017. This is mainly attributed to the high volume of shrimp.

Plaice landings dropped sharply by 6 million kg (-20%) to a total of 24.5 million kg, and sole dropped by 0.7 million kg (-8%) to 8.6 million kg. For both these species, the catch was below the permitted quota. For plaice, 45% of the quota was used, and for sole it was 66%. The average landing price for plaice increased from €1.80 per kilo to €2.43 per kilo. The average landing price for sole also increased from €10.47 per kilo to €11.15 per kilo.

The shrimp catch was particularly good in 2018, at 27.7 million kg. But with the landing price halved to an average of €3.08 per kg, 2018 revenues in the shrimp sector were almost equivalent to 2017 (14 million kg at €6.06 per kg).

Total fuel costs for the Dutch cutter fisheries fleet came to around 55 million euros in 2018, which is 18% of the cutter fisheries' total revenue. Thanks in part to innovations in more efficient fishing vessels, this percentage has dropped significantly in recent years. In 2011, for example, the figure was 34%.

Other sectors

Mussel landings in 2018/2019 were 46 million kg, 4% higher than in 2017. The average price of mussels also increased this season to €1.12 (+2%). Net profits for the mussel sector came to about 4 million euros, a slight improvement on 2017. Previous years had been very economically challenging and returns are still expected to be negative for many companies this year.

The pelagic sector consists of 8 vessels. In 2018, landing of pelagic species increased to 317 million kg, up from 300 million kg in 2017.

In the small-scale fisheries sector, the seine net fleet is having a very difficult time. Sole catches in this fleet dropped from 256 tonnes in 2013 to 57 tonnes in 2018.

Fleet development: increased scale, investments and a return to beam trawling

The active cutter fisheries fleet consisted of 289 vessels in 2018, 75 of which used pulse fishing gear in that year. The withdrawal of the pulse fishing dispensation means many pulse fishing cutters will have to resort back to beam trawling, a more fuel-intensive form of fishing.

There is a trend towards increased scale, with larger ship owners buying up cutter fishery businesses. At this stage 31 businesses have more than one cutter in service.

Investeringen Kottervisserij

(Investments: cutter fishery)

The good returns of the past few years have meant that many business owners have invested in major overhauls and improvements to their vessels. There has also been investment in new cutters and existing ones are also being added to fleets: in 2018, 6 new ones and 6 existing ones were added. Total investment in the cutter fishery sector is estimated at 43 million euros for 2018, which is a significant increase on investment in previous years. Orders are being placed for new shrimp cutters as well as flyshoot and twin rig cutters.

Through these investments, the fisheries sector is preparing itself for a turbulent future, in which it will be curtailed by Brexit, the ban on pulse fishing, the ban on discards, offshore wind farms, and conservation areas.

Europe the most important sales market for Dutch fish

It’s expected that in 2018 – just like in 2017 – around 81% of the value of exported fish products from the Netherlands will be attributed to sales within Europe.

Between 2016 and 2017, the total export value of fish and fish products increased by 6% to 3.4 billion euros. For plaice and sole, Germany, Italy and Belgium are the most important export markets.

The Netherlands is also an important intersection for fish destined for the European market. Besides the landing of fish from Dutch vessels, a lot of fish is imported, processed and exported again.