Largely export-driven fishing and aquaculture businesses in England are to receive a £10m boost from the UK government to help them cover costs during the coronavirus pandemic.
The funding will help firms sell their catch in local communities as the outbreak takes its toll on overseas fish and shellfish sales.
Environment secretary George Eustice and chief secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay said more than 1,000 businesses would benefit from the cash funding.
Around £9m is available for grants to owners of fishing boats measuring under 24m with fishing licences registered in England who recorded sales of £10,000 or more in 2019.
Grants will be made to help cover fixed business costs such as insurance, equipment hire and port costs, and the exact amount received will be based on the size of boats.
Up to 70% of England's fishing fleet’s total catch - much of it made up of hake, scallops and crab - is usually sold to Europe and Asia.
However, the coronavirus outbreak has seen traditional export markets close as the hospitality sector across Europe and many other key export markets face lockdowns.
The additional £10m will help fishermen sell their catch in local communities while export markets are restricted.
Barclay said: “Given the loss of trade particularly to restaurants as a result of Covid-19, this support will help fishing businesses weather the current challenges they face, and facilitate new growth in retail markets through innovative local distribution.”
Crews manning the 2,500 boats that fish in UK waters are self-employed but have seen a drop in demand from earlier this year when the coronavirus outbreak started to close off China.
“It may be a temporary crisis but it is a very severe shock,” said Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, saying that UK crab exports to China had grown substantially over recent years.
“Some parts of the fleet have become very dependent on that, and that was the first to go, with a very dramatic fall in demand.”
Britons have been urged to buy prime species, such as Dover sole and lobster which are usually sold abroad, to help the fishing sector during lockdown.