Scottish fishermen numbers hit record low

THE number of fishermen employed in Scotland’s fishing industry has fallen to the lowest level in the industry’s long history, it was revealed today.

A graph showing the decline in fishermen numbers. Picture: Complimentary
A graph showing the decline in fishermen numbers. Picture: Complimentary

Last year another 249 crewmen left the Scottish fleet, bringing the total number of fishermen employed on Scottish based vessels down to 4,747 - almost half the number of crewmen employed in Scotland 30 years ago.

The fleet’s total workforce now accounts for only 0.2 per cent of the entire Scottish workforce, according to new fleet statistics published today by the Scottish Government.

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The report states: “This decrease was driven by a fall of eight per cent (315 persons) in those who are regularly employed but the effect of this was buffered by a seven per cent increase (64 persons) in those who are irregularly employed.

“Since 1970, employment on Scottish based fishing vessels has fallen 49 per cent, with large decreases in each employment category – 51 per cent in regular employment, 35 per cent in irregular employment and 80 per cent in the number of crofters engaged in commercial fishing. These decreases in fishermen numbers could be attributed to reductions in fleet capacity and increased vessel efficiency. “

The Buchan port of Fraserburgh employs the largest number of fishermen with 797 crewmen accounting for 17 per cent of the Scottish total. And Shetland, with 201 irregularly employed fishermen is the

district with the largest number of part time crewmen.

The statistics have also revealed that another 49 vessels left the Scottish white fish and pelagic fleets during 2012, bringing the total number of active fishing vessels based in Scotland down to 2,046.

The total value of fish landed by Scottish vessels also fell last year by nine per cent last year - twelve months after the fleet had recorded the highest level of catches this century.

Last year 365,000 tonnes of sea fish and shellfish were landed by Scottish based vessels, worth £466 million.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “These final confirmed fisheries statistics for 2012 serve to highlight the major challenges faced by our fishing fleet. In particular, the fall in value comes at the time when the Scottish fleet is facing rapidly increasing operational costs set against the background of incredibly tight restrictions on the number of fishing days allowed.”

He continued: “Perhaps most worrying of all is the continuing decline in the number of fishermen employed. While it is important that we have a fleet size that is in line with the available catching opportunity, we are now at a stage where the majority of fish stocks are increasing. This is why it is so vital that the correct management and support measures are secured to ensure that there is a healthy fleet in place to ensure the continuing harvesting of this incredibly important and sustainable food resource.”

Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Fisheries Secretary, said: “Given the backdrop of the difficult economic trading conditions these statistics show that overall the volume of landings from the Scottish fleet held up reasonably well in 2012 but any reduction in value hits the bottom line of businesses.

“Whilst the value of those landings dipped compared with the previous year which was a record high, the value still remained relatively strong given the challenging global market conditions. In real terms the value of landings by Scottish vessels in 2012 was 34 per cent greater than ten years ago.”

He added: “The Scottish Government has taken action to help the industry cope in areas that have had to deal with particularly difficult conditions. I recently announced a £6 million action plan has been put in place to help the prawn fleet cope with tough catching and trading conditions. And I have also been leading calls for the EU to introduce sanctions against the Faroe Islands, which has been over-fishing Mackerel, Scotland’s most important stock. I am glad these sanctions have recently been introduced.

“Higher quotas also helped to increase landings values in key stocks such as haddock and whiting. The tough market conditions we are currently experiencing demonstrate the importance of adding value to the Scottish product and promoting it to markets both at home and across the world, an area in which we continue to work actively with the industry.”

According to the report, the total quantity of fish landed last year fell by only two per cent. But the decrease in the overall value of landings was driven by reductions in the value of all species of fish landed by the whitefish, pelagic and shellfish sectors.

The value of pelagic landings decreased by 11 per cent to £166 million. Demersal (white fish) landings decreased by eight per cent to £143 million And shellfish landings decreased by six per cent to £157 million

Mackerel remained the most valuable stock to the Scottish fleet at £131 million, accounting for 28 per cent of the total value. But the mackerel catch fell n real terms of value by 21 per cent from 2011, driven by a 14 per cent fall in price and an eight per cent decrease in the quantity landed to 134,000 tonnes. However, the value of herring, the other key pelagic species, increased by 68 per cent in real terms to £29 million.

According to the report the number of active fishing vessels based in Scotland was 2,046 at the end of 2012. There was a loss a of 22 vessels in the 10metre and under fleet and a loss of 27 vessels in the over 10metre fleet.

Over two thirds of the boats in the Scottish fleet are now at least 20 years old, with an average age of 25.