Building resilience in the fishing sector in Wales

As the United Kingdom (UK) journeys towards leaving the European  Union (EU), there remains considerable uncertainty for the fishing industry, fishermen, and coastal communities in Wales.

Periods of significant uncertainty can have detrimental impact on health and well-being. During these times it is of considerable importance to both understand and address underlying causes of anxiety and distress, alongside supporting the health and mental  well-being of those most likely to be affected.

This report aims to develop a framework to support the mental health and well-being of fishermen at times of uncertainty, and consider how it could be translated into action. To achieve this, we combined a review of the international literature from the past ten years with the collective views of thirteen stakeholders from across the fishing sector in Wales. 

Foreward

With over 870 miles of coastal path and more than half of its population living in coastal areas, the history of Wales is closely intertwined with its people’s interactions with the sea.

For decades, centuries even, fishing was the main industry for numerous towns and communities along the Welsh coast and, even though the days of Victorian docks full of trawlers and drifters are gone, the fishing sector remains an important part of the Welsh economy and cultural heritage.

The Wales seafood industry is a vibrant and diverse business that boasts a range of  both traditional and innovative fisheries and aquaculture operations. Top quality seafood lands daily at ports, harbours and beaches along the length of the coast, from Cardiff to Connah's Quay.

It remains an industry that is very significant to the local economy and vital for the long-term sustainability of many coastal communities; and it is at risk.

This important report highlights the implications of the uncertainties facing the fishing sector in Wales. Many of these uncertainties are longstanding issues, the impact of which might be further exacerbated by Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. With 90% of fisheries exports directed to the European Union and approximately three quarters of the Welsh fleet made up of small fishing vessels, these unprecedented circumstances bring an extra source of stress.

In fishing communities, good health is critical to the ability of individuals and families to maintain viable livelihoods, hence increasing awareness and supporting workers’ mental health and social well-being is important, timely and relevant.

A public health approach, as outlined in this report, underpinned by the best available evidence and co-production with industry workers and their families, is the only sustainable way to help build resilience in the sector. In applying the proposed framework, there is an opportunity in Wales to build on the long legacy of the fishing sector and be an innovator in addressing the key issues of mental health and well-being amongst fishing communities. 

Dr Antonis Kousoulis Director of England and Wales Mental Health Foundation 

Conclusion and recommendations for action

A framework to support the mental health and well-being of fishermen and their families at times of uncertainty needs a preventative approach (see Figure 1) which includes a focus on:

  •  Preventing uncertainty and the challenges from adversity
  • Protecting against the potential impact of those challenges on mental health  and well-being   
  • Promoting mental health and well-being amongst fishermen and fishing  communities to support resilience 

This report is a collaboration between Public Health Wales and the Mental Health Foundation, informed by the international evidence base, and views from across the fishing sector in Wales, including fishermen themselves. It is an attempt to address a key area of public health concern, where there is both a need and a demand for action, but a relative lack of clear evidence.

The findings demonstrate that whilst Brexit brings considerable uncertainty and challenge to the fishing sector, many underlying causes of anxiety amongst fishermen are longstanding. Views from the stakeholders and the international evidence support the need for a preventative approach which includes action to prevent the uncertainty and challenge from adversity, protect against the potential impact on mental health and well-being, and promote mental health and well-being amongst fishing communities in the longer term –  to support a resilient fishing sector for the future. 

When considering how to best promote mental health and well-being amongst fishermen, only a small number of programmes had been evaluated to some extent, but these were largely small pilot studies and did not adequately examine the primary outcome – mental health and well-being amongst fishermen. Whilst we recognise that given the time available we may not have identified all studies in this area, there is insufficient evidence to conclude on a single effective programme to support mental health and well-being amongst fishermen. However, there are transferable lessons to inform the implementation of a range of approaches targeted to addressing mental health and well-being amongst fishing communities in Wales. Co-production and evaluation should be at the heart of any implementation, and the opportunity exists for Wales to be an innovator in this area.

Read the full report:

In English  In Welsh