Skippers’ anger at inflated fees

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SKIPPERS have reacted angrily to the news that landing dues are to be raised by almost double the rate of inflation.

At Monday’s meeting of the Pilot Whitby Harbour Board, members voted to increase fees in the harbour by 5% generally.

This means that the annual charge for fishing vessels up to 10 metres in length will increase from £279.55 to £293.55 per year. Vessels over 10 metres will also have to pay an extra £32.35 for each additional metre of boat length - a rise of £1.55.

Geoff Lodge, chair of Whitby Boating Association, was unable to attend the meeting but in an email circulated to the harbour board he said that last year’s increase was in line with the Consumer Price Index and so was seen as fair among harbour users. However, he added: “The current economic situation is impacting everyone, as is evidenced by the greater than normal number of boats for sale in Whitby, whether openly advertised or not.

“Whitby is one of the most expensive marinas on the East Coast in which to keep a boat and the restricted access to the sea makes it relatively poor value for money. Above inflation increases can only make the situation worse.”

This was disputed by harbour master Ian Vasey who said that he had looked at a number of other east coast ports and the charges would ensure Whitby remained competitive in that market.

The introduction of parking permits for the Marina Car Park last year meant that in real terms skippers have already seen an increase in fees of 8.5%. Jon Whitton, skipper of the Never Can Tell A, said that this rise meant the wage he was able to take had been reduced by about 50% in just two years.

“You can quickly get to the point where you don’t actually earn a wage yourself,” he added.

Over the last year Mr Whitton explained he had seen a “massive” reduction in turnover from angling trips. This was due in part to poor weather but also a number of part-time skippers had taken up hosting charter fishing trips on a full-time basis, increasing competition.

He said he had hoped for support from the harbour board, but added that the increased fees suggested this was not the case: “It would have been acceptable if it was in line with inflation. But not double. That on top of what was a big increase on top of inflation last year.

“We want to see improvements around the harbour but we get the impression that the harbour revenue is going direct to the Scarborough General Fund.”

Money taken from parking fees does not go to the harbour board but instead is given to the borough council’s general fund.

However, harbour board chairman Coun Mike Cockerill said that it was a “fact of life” that the harbour would levy a share of skippers’ profits to pay for the maintenance of the harbour.

He added: “Whitby Harbour has suffered from a lack of maintenance for many years and we are trying to correct that.”

Coun Tony Hornigold, the only member of the Harbour Board who keeps a vessel in Whitby, was required to declare a prejudicial interest in the matter and so could not affect the result of the vote.

In an attempt to support the fishing industry in Whitby harbour, wharfage rates are being held at the current level.