THE Scottish Government today announced a £6 million aid package - including a £3 million hardship fund - to help Scottish skippers hit by soaring fuel prices, export pressures and the impact of the European Union’s cod recovery plan.
• Scottish skippers to be handed £6 million aid package, including a £3 million hardship fund
• Richard Lochhead applauds efforts of fishermen towards conservation as Scottish Government looks to lessen discards
The action plan includes proposals to allow vessels to trial a discard-free prawn fishery this year by fishing with nets and fishing gear that eliminate a whitefish by-catch and potential additional funding to promote Scottish seafood.
A Scottish Government spokesman said the £3 million hardship fund was being established for fishermen who may be facing “exceptional stresses on their viability.”
The action plan was announced by Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Fisheries Secretary, during a visit to the North Atlantic Fisheries College in Shetland.
He said: “The fishing industry is very important to Scotland’s economy and contributed £500 million last year. It is the lifeblood of many local communities supporting over 5,000 coastal jobs across Scotland including many here in Shetland.
“Scottish seafood is famed across Europe and our fishermen are being applauded for blazing a trail in terms of fisheries conservation but there are many big challenges facing one of our most vital sectors.”
He continued: “Issues such as volatile international markets and environmental factors such as a scarcity of prawns appearing on the grounds have meant many fishermen have been experiencing exceptionally tough times. And all this at time when regulatory changes such as the transition to discard free fisheries are just around the corner.
“The Scottish Government wants to support our fishing industry and their communities as they seek to overcome short term challenges. We also want to help fishermen adapt to a future where they will no longer discard any of their catch. “
Mr Lochhead added: “As we work together to implement this action plan, we will also discuss what further steps can be taken by industry and Government to strengthen the resilience and adaptability of businesses in the fishing industries.”
The action plan was welcomed by Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. He said: “There are some very severe and specific challenges facing the Scottish prawn and whitefish fleets. This action plan demonstrates the Government’s recognition of that.
“Frustratingly, some of the critical problems such as fuel price and external regulation are outside government and industry direct control. However, there is much that can be done and we look forward to developing with government the offered actions as soon as possible.”
A Scottish Government spokesman explained: “The Scottish Government has taken action because of the exceptionally tough circumstances faced by Scottish fishermen in 2013. The position has been most acute in the prawn fishery, where catches in the North Sea this year have been down by over a half compared with 2012. The lower prawn catches have meant that prawn fisherman have had to diversify into other fisheries, leading to increased demand and lease prices for whitefish - for example cod, haddock, whiting fish quotas. Reduced prawn catches have therefore had an impact on the wider fleet that catches whitefish.
“The reasons for the lower catches have not yet been fully explained, but could be down to environmental factors, including the colder weather at the start of the year.”