Why we’ve gone fishing for new recruits

The fish-catching sector is facing a serious problem ' there are not enough youngsters joining the industry. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The fish-catching sector is facing a serious problem ' there are not enough youngsters joining the industry. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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We need a new generation to join us, says Bertie Armstrong

FISHING is one of Scotland’s great traditional industries and at the very core of our culture. It is in many ways an integral component of what makes us tick as a people. The evolution of the industry over the centuries played a pivotal role in the development of a multitude of communities dotted around the coast from Campbeltown and Girvan in the south-west right round to Eyemouth in the south-east.

The herring boom of the 19th century led to the Scottish fishing industry becoming the largest in Europe and by 1913 it is estimated there were over 10,000 boats fishing for the “silver darlings” alone. It was possible to walk from one side of Fraserburgh or Wick harbour to the other across the tightly packed boats. And the Scots fisher lasses, who came from fishing villages around the coast of Scotland, travelled throughout the year from Stornoway to Lerwick, to Peterhead and as far south as Yarmouth following the movement of these boats.

The air buzzed, railway lines were built and communities became established to service this rapidly expanding industry. In short, it created economic opportunity and much-need employment, as well as a valuable source of nutritious food. Although times have dramatically changed since then, fishing is still incredibly important to our economy and at first point of sale is worth about £430 million annually. Add to this the economic income from processing the catch and the multitude of support companies serving the industry, then it takes on an even larger and more significant dimension.

But the fish-catching sector is today facing a rather serious problem – there are simply not enough youngsters joining the industry. In these times of advancements in technology and diverse array of career choices, it would seem fishing is way down the list as far as job appeal goes. This is a huge pity because fishing offers great career opportunities in what is an incredibly challenging but stimulating job.

Yes, fishing can be tough but the rewards in terms of job satisfaction and personal progression can be immense. Whether working on the deck managing the use of sophisticated equipment and ensuring the careful handling of the catch, or being in the wheelhouse of a modern fishing vessel with its state-of-the-art electronic equipment, this is a job that is quite simply like no other. The engine room often features the most up-to-date propulsion units that need to be serviced and looked after. Pitched against nature and the elements, this is not a nine-to-five job, but therein lies part of its appeal and challenge.

It is for all these reasons, and no doubt many more, that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) is spearheading a ground-breaking initiative to encourage youngsters to consider a career in commercial fishing. This pilot scheme, launched in secondary schools in Aberdeenshire, aims to secure the future of Scottish fishing by encouraging a new generation to go to sea.

Under the initiative, school-leavers will be offered the opportunity to undertake a three-week introductory and safety course in fishing at the Scottish Maritime Academy in Peterhead followed by a two-month work placement aboard a working fishing vessel. Participants who decide that fishing is their career of choice, will then have the opportunity to enrol in a two-year Modern Apprenticeship course leading to a qualified deckhand certification. On completion of this, those looking for further advancement can join defined career pathway training for navigation officer or marine engineering qualifications.

As well as the SFF, the scheme is supported by Aberdeenshire Council, Skills Development Scotland and the Sea Fish Industry Authority. Safety will be a key underlying theme of the initial three-week course and two-month work experience. The course will also give youngsters the opportunity to experience other sectors of the industry such as fish processing and net making. The seagoing element will be overseen by working skippers who have signed up to the initiative.

We hope this pilot proves successful, and if so, will hopefully lead to the opportunity for rolling the scheme out to other areas of Scotland. In short, the future of fishing depends upon new generations entering the industry and playing their role in ensuring our nation’s food security through the supply of the highest quality sustainable seafood that is in demand all around the world.

Bertie Armstrong is chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation