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Doubts raised over feasibility of Milford docks master plan

MilfordHavenThe Herald reported last month that Milford Haven Port Authority has unveiled a new £60 million Milford Dock Master plan is to radically change and regenerate “Wales’ largest fishing port”.

Details unveiled by the plan aim to create a high quality brand for its fish and other seafood. Part of the £60 million development aspires to transform the entire area around Milford Fish docks and the plan claims that this will bring further growth and job opportunities. The intention is to provide high standard storage, processing, retail and tourism facilities for the area, in order that ‘seafood caught in Pembrokeshire can be promoted as a brand to be sought after’.

Milford Haven was once one of the busiest ports in the UK and has even inspired writers such as Shakespeare who used Milford as a setting in the play Cymbeline referring to the location as ‘this same blessed Milford’. Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson said of Milford Haven, ‘It is one of the greatest harbours in the world’.

Having one of the deepest natural waters of any harbour in the world, Milford became home to a thriving and important fishing port during the 19th century and throughout the first half of the 20th century boasted a busy and bustling fishing port quayside. At one point, for every one job at sea there were four in the port. However, a decline in the 1950’s saw the fishing industry all but disappear and the port was transformed into what is now mainly a marina.

Alun Davies, Assembly Minister for Natural Resources and Food, is quoted in the web article as saying that, ‘The success of our proposed plan relies upon our ability to work in partnership with the Welsh fishing industry’. He also says that he hopes the plans announced will ‘help strengthen the local fishing industry and bring employment opportunities to the area’.

Kevin Hobbs added to this optimism by stating that he believes the Milford Fish docks have huge potential. He suggests that greater tonnages of fish could be handled there given the range of ‘quality and diverse species’ available in Pembrokeshire fishing waters. He goes on to applaud the plan’s aim to create wholesale and retail outlets, along with facilities for processing catch that is landed on the quay, which he sees as crucial in creating jobs and encouraging growth.

However, The Herald spoke exclusively to one local fisherman, who wished to remain unnamed, and who cast serious doubt over the viability of these ambitious plans.

“I believe this is just a way of getting grant money. Half of what they are saying might not happen. In my case, I have a shed on the quay for which I have been asking for a drainer for over eighteen months now. The public are even complaining about the smell and yet nothing has been done. We have a similar problem with getting ice which is really expensive.”

He went on to say that the fishermen who use the port find it very hard to obtain fuel which, he claims, is only available during ‘normal’ working hours and which, he says,‘would be available round the clock in any other port’, stating, “There is nothing here for fishermen”.

On the subject of Kevin Hobbs’ vision of greater fish quantities being handled at the port he pointed out that,

“Fish couldn’t be caught locally because of the fishing quotas. Under the new European rule (EU Fisheries) called ‘Kilowatt Days’ we are only allowed to fish a certain amount of days per year. So where is all this fish going to come from? If there are such good fishing stocks here, then why aren’t the fishermen here?”

He was also sceptical of the Port Authority’s ability to ‘get things done’ as he said that there wasn’t even anywhere for local fisherman to lift their boats in order to complete paint work, along with the lack of crane facilities available for them to use. He asked who would really benefit from the plans? He implied that only the port authority, rather than the local fishermen, would reap the rewards. He believes that of the £60 million the local fishermen would be lucky to receive two million pounds, the rest, he thinks, being spent on the port.

He pointed out that: “There are not enough fishing boats here, roughly twenty to thirty little boats. There are only two big trawlers here and one big shellfish boat. This is the port in Britain with the least amount of fishing boats. Do they want fishing or not? If they do they will have to change their attitude. There is only one fish shop in Milford, which is closed on Saturdays, and this is the biggest fishing port in wales!”

He explained that the problem was largely to do with who is actually fishing from Milford Haven.

“To bring fish here, in Pembrokeshire, process it here and then take it away from here is very expensive. What is happening is that Belgium vessels, for example, are offloading produce here at port and then it goes straight onto a foreign lorry and it’s off. They don’t use local crews and even their crew changes involve men being taxied from Belgium! They aren’t even using local transport services. The food they use for their vessels is 95% brought over in the back of a lorry from Belgium. Even the fishing gear comes from Belgium. The only thing they buy here is the fuel, and that comes from the Port Authority, so how is this helping local fishermen and traders?”

The Fisherman with whom The Herald spoke also complained that he has tried approaching the Port Authority for new property and was struggling, despite several meetings with the Port Authority Committee.

What seems to be clear is that, if the Port Authority’s plans are to succeed, it will be essential for them to work with local fishermen and traders if their redevelopment is truly to benefit the local community, creating jobs in the fishing industry. From speaking with a local and busy fisherman, it seems this is not the prevailing position and more co-operation would appear to be needed if the ambitious £60million ‘master plan’ is to reach its full potential, and succeed in making Milford Haven one of the UK’s best and more productive fishing ports. Local fishermen, businesses and retailers will be waiting to see how this develops.