Thirty years ago, 130 trawlers operated out of Yorkshire coast ports. But the number of boats has now shrunk to just 12, only eight remaining in Scarborough.
Fishermen blame the crisis on European bureaucracy including restrictions on catches and the number of days boats can spend at sea.
Leaders fear they are seeing the last flickerings of life in an industry that was once the lifeblood of the Yorkshire coast communities unless there is a rethink.
A plea has been made direct to Commissioner Maria Damanki, director-general for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries in Brussels to mitigate the impact of the EU fisheries policy on Scarborough, Whitby, and Filey.
Scarborough Council executive member Peter Popple, who is also chairman of the Whitby Harbour Board, says current restrictions are having "ongoing and devastating impacts" on all three fishing fleets and the communities they support.
He added: "After years of, what are perceived by many to be, no-effectual quota system and days at sea policies, it is now producing dire consequences locally.
"The current situation at our ports, which are steeped in fishing heritage, is woeful to witness and is systematically destroying people's livelihoods.
"The once thriving and, may I say, proud fishing fleets at our ports are now reduced to a mere handful of vessels and owners on the verge of collapse and bankruptcy."
This is turn was impacting upon the whole supply chain and support services, including the council's harbour assets, Coun Popple continued.
He accepted while much scientific research and consultation has taken place over previous years, no discernable improvement on policy or finding a suitable replacement for a flawed quota system has been produced.
His letter to the EU states: "It is surely morally unjust, as well as totally ineffective, to waste such a valuable natural resource by throwing it back into the sea dead which is promoted by the current system of discards through lack of quota.
"The fishermen themselves are at the forefront of the battle to conserve fish stocks and to implement sustainable methods and policies which will both safeguard the environment and provide fishing opportunities for generations to come.
"However, if no immediate action is taken by the European Commission to provide immediate solutions and respite for the fishermen, and the communities in which they live and work, then I feel all may be too late before a viable catching policy can be introduced."
Coun Popple is now waiting for the reply from Brussels – hoping that the bureaucrats will grant Scarborough, Whitby and Filey special dispensations under the rules to allow fishermen to hang on to their precarious livelihoods.
However, the EU voted on December 15 to slash fishing quotas next year with sharp cuts for cod, in waters off England, Scotland and Scandinavia.
It was also agreed to reduce the overall allowable catch of cod by another 18 percent cut.
Scarborough fishing leader Fred Normandale said he did not think Brussels would take any notice of the appeal.
He added: "The EU are a law unto themselves. They have a hidden agenda, which I suspect includes destroying the northern fleet."