Fleets ‘on the brink’ as fish industry makes plea

The Scottish Fishermen's Federation has warned of a crisis among its fleets. Picture: AP
The Scottish Fishermen's Federation has warned of a crisis among its fleets. Picture: AP
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SCOTTISH fishermen’s leaders today warned that large sections of the whitefish and prawn fleets are “teetering on the brink of survival.”

• Whitefish and prawn fleets struggling to survive, claim Scottish Fishermen’s Federation

• SFF ask Scottish Government for transitional aid amid claims fishing fleet is ensnared by ‘dysfunctional regulations’

And, on the eve of a planned meeting with Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Fisheries Minister, they issued an urgent call for transitional aid from the Government to help prevent the catching sector from being tipped over the edge.

Senior officials with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) are due to meeting Mr Lochhead in Aberdeen tomorrow at the industry’s Skipper Expo showcase at the city’s Exhibition and Conference centre.

An SFF spokesman said that Bertie Armstrong, the federation’s chief executive, had written to Mr Lochhead, in advance of the meeting, warning that the fishing fleet is ensnared in a web of “dysfunctional regulations” and restrictions that are further exacerbated by a depressed market for seafood.

Mr Armstrong states in his letter: “While the SFF acknowledges that the Scottish Government has put in place some mitigation measures to help the fleet through these current difficulties, regrettably, despite your efforts, none of these offer remedies. While it is essential that such measures continue, there is now a clear need to address the wider matters of survival.”

The letter continues: “At its most fundamental, the catching sector problem lies in the absence of a gap between income achieved for fish at landing and the operating costs of getting them there – grossing figures are one thing, the bottom line is quite another.

“The gap in fish abundance encountered by fishermen at sea and the constraints of the present technical regulations and quotas is hugely frustrating and continuously expressed by the catching sector.“

Mr Armstrong states: “This fish abundance is verified by the overall scientific picture of a decade of falling fishing mortality and the corresponding increase in biomass, particularly if taken across the ecosystems. Clearly, the conditions exist for ‘jam tomorrow’, but while this recovery takes its course and with the additional near-term constraints of a move to Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) and some form of land-all obligation, there is, under the present and post CFP reform regulatory framework, going to be no relief for our fishermen today.“

Mr Armstrong claims: “These conditions therefore threaten the survival of large sections of the whitefish and prawn fleets and I do not believe that this is an overstatement. If that is allowed to happen, the demise of the fleets will be accompanied by that of the supporting infrastructure and fishing communities.

“Perhaps worst of all, there will then be no fishing capacity left to accommodate the fruits of all the sacrifice and effort, when the greatly increased catches under MSY start to become available.“

He concludes: “We can therefore identify a clear transition period between the pressure and constraints of the present and the need to prepare for increased opportunity. This represents a classic case for the need for transitional aid. The details of this will have to be imaginatively worked out, but must embrace all the distressed sectors, and contribute to the preparation for the upturn which will surely follow.”

Mr Lochhead said: “The fishing industry is vital to many of our rural communities all across Scotland. The Skipper Expo is a good opportunity to bring together key members of this industry from the fishermen, processors and seafood companies. I look forward to using this occasion to meet with these industries to discuss issues that are important to the future of Scottish fishing.”