HORRENDOUS weather conditions over Christmas and the new year have cost Newquay's shell fishermen thousands of pounds in lost earnings.
Rough seas, high tides and gale-force winds have confined the regular fleet of six boats to the harbour for at least three of the past four weeks, missing out on the lucrative Christmas market for crabs and lobsters in Spain and France.
Newquay skipper Phil Trebilcock said shellfish could fetch twice the normal price on the continent over the festive season.
The shell fishing fleet in Newquay is the largest on the north Cornwall coast and employs around 50 people, directly and indirectly.
"This is the worst I've known it in 40 years of fishing," said Mr Trebilcock. "Wednesday was the first time in three weeks that boats have been out. It's been one thing after the other with the spring tides and low pressure.
"The Christmas market in Spain and France is double what it is in August and September. In Spain they have crabs for Christmas dinner, and the price doubles. If you get bad weather like we've seen then you lose a lot of money."
Geoff Brown, also a skipper and Cornwall councillor for the Newquay Central area, said the situation was very serious, and came on the back of a relatively poor year for fishing.
"Some boats have only been out for three days in the whole of December, which means they get very little income," he said. "Until a few years ago they could sign on if they couldn't get out to sea for a sustained period of time, but that law has now been changed so they have nothing to fall back on. They're completely at the mercy of the weather.
"Not only does this impact on the fishermen, it also affects the shore teams, the people in the markets, and the truck drivers. There's a huge knock-on effect. It's very rough for everyone."
Many static lobster pots had been badly damaged or lost in the winter's storms. "This is thousands of pounds' worth of gear, on top of the lost earnings," Mr Brown said.
However, Mr Trebilcock said the Newquay fleet had escaped relatively unscathed.
"The only silver lining is that all our crab pots and gear seem to be OK; there's only been very minor damage," he said. "Let's hope this has all been a one-off and we can get back to fishing."