Supporting mental health and wellbeing in fishermen and fishing communities
12 November, 2020 Griffin Carpenter

In September 2020 the Centre published it’s report Policy options for Welsh fishing opportunities, which explores the potential fishing opportunities open to Wales after the European Transition. Equally as important as the financial implications for the sector is the mental impact the uncertainty of the Brexit situation is having on those who work within the fishing industry. The blog below outlines important new research undertaken by Public Health Wales and the Mental Health Foundation, which aims to highlight ways to support the mental health and wellbeing of Wales’ fishing community.

Wales is a coastal nation, with fishing traditionally being the main industry for numerous towns and communities along its coast, and the sector remaining today an important part of the Welsh economy and cultural heritage. 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.

This important report highlights the many uncertainties facing the fishing sector in Wales and what this means for the health and wellbeing of our fishermen. Many of these uncertainties and challenges are longstanding issues that fishermen been facing, the impact of which might be further exacerbated by Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. With 90% of fisheries exports directed to the EU 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 fishermen’s mental health and social well-being is important, timely and relevant.

A public health approach, as outlined in a joint report from Public Health Wales and the Mental Health Foundation, Building resilience in the fishing sector in Wales, 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. Our report describes a framework for action to prevent uncertainty or challenge (where possible); where we cannot prevent adversity, then we need to protect against its potential impact on mental wellbeing; and lastly for a longer-term approach we need to look to promote the health and wellbeing of our fishermen and fishing communities.

How did we approach developing the framework?

We examined national and international programmes designed to support the health of fishermen, their families, and fishing communities. There are examples highlighted in the report of programmes that aimed to strengthen health and wellbeing as a vital asset for the fishing sector. These programmes attempted to achieve this by raising fishermen’s awareness of mental wellbeing and support available to them and removing barriers to their access to these vital services. Additionally, highlighting a multi-sector approach as important to achieving good health in fishermen, thereby bringing together local health providers, mental health specialists, local industry experts, welfare groups, the regulatory sector, and fishermen themselves in creating and delivering solutions.

This revealed a gap in evidence-based programmes, particularly from the UK, that demonstrate a positive impact on measurable health and wellbeing outcomes for fishermen. There is urgent need for better evaluation of bespoke programmes to understand what works and for whom.

So what are the solutions?

The findings from the literature were discussed in workshops with Welsh fishermen and fishing organisations, to develop and coproduce Wales-specific recommendations through lively engagement and invaluable contributions from our fishing stakeholders.

We drew on local insights to collate and map the network of organisations across Wales, which offer support and advice tailored to fishermen. For example, providing services where they can access information and support to address financial worries, business management, succession planning, and mental health and wellbeing.

Our recommendations begin with a focus on preventing and addressing uncertainty through developing a shared vision for the fishing sector in Wales, highlighting its value as a natural resource supporting the aims of the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales).

This should also go alongside practical actions which if addressed could help to lessen the anxiety and stress, and protect against the impact of challenge and uncertainty on mental wellbeing. These were to:

  • streamline the administrative and regulatory processes,
  • coproduce policies and a viable vision for the future of Welsh fishing with fishermen,
  • champion the Welsh fishing sector and promote Welsh produce,
  • ensure provision of financial and business support that extends to the wider fishing family,
  • ensure visible enforcement of regulations; and health & safety regulations.

Finally, we highlight a number of actions to promote the mental health and wellbeing amongst fishermen and fishing communities. These included:

  • Supporting a change in fishing culture to address the stigma associated with seeking advice or support for business or health challenges.
  • Developing and testing approaches to increase mental health awareness.
  • Ensuring fishermen have better access to health and wellbeing services in partnership with local providers to ensure health programmes reach the most vulnerable.
  • Encouraging multi-agency partnerships; including local health care providers, industry experts and welfare agencies.
  • Working in partnership with the fishing communities to build on local knowledge and connections to develop support and enabling better engagement with the fishing communities.

We brought together many different organisations doing excellent work in this area, and they themselves could see the value in continuing the partnership approach to supporting our fishing communities in Wales; who in turn shape our natural environment, culture and contribute to the wellbeing of the Welsh population and our economy.

Drawing on this framework offers the opportunity for Wales to build on the legacy of the fishing sector and be an innovator in addressing the key issues of mental health and well-being amongst fishing communities.

This blog was originally published by the Wales Centre for Public Policy here.

This post is part of the Policy to plate series. Click to read more.