Struggling Shetland fishermen call for help, warning catches at risk from rocketing fuel prices amid Ukraine conflict
Skippers have voiced fears that important fish catches could be in jeopardy as they face the growing possibility they may have to tie up their boats and lay off crew because going to sea is becoming increasingly unaffordable.
The conflict in Ukraine has seen the cost of marine diesel in the isles more than double since the same time a year ago, making fishing trips uneconomical and local businesses unviable.
The Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) is appealing for temporary support from ministers to sustain fishing fleets through this “time of crisis” – and protect valuable food supplies on which the nation relies.
SFA chair and local skipper James Anderson said: “It’s almost a forgotten fact that fishing crews help to feed the nation.
“War puts things in perspective, and every household and industry across the UK is feeling the strain of rapidly rising fuel bills, but our governments need to be aware that boats have been struggling – and that we can’t keep fishing for long in the current climate.
“Already in Shetland we’ve seen crews forced to consider tying up, taking wage cuts or being let go altogether until vessels become viable again.
“That won’t happen soon without a show of support for our industry, as other countries have chosen to do.”
Nearly 50,000 tonnes of fresh fish and shellfish were landed in Shetland alone last year, providing meals for millions of people.
Without financial help, the SFA says local vessels face being tied up at quaysides, while foreign fleets, supported by their own nations, can continue fishing – many of them in the waters around Shetland.
French fishing fleets will be able to stay at sea due to a government-funded four-month subsidy of €0.35 [30 pence] per litre of fuel.
Meanwhile, Spanish leaders have committed to lowering taxes at state ports and offering low-interest loans to help keep fishing vessels viable.
Industry support measures are also expected to be announced in the Republic of Ireland and potentially in Northern Ireland, where a temporary tax break for fishing vessels is under consideration by ministers.
“While Shetland boats struggle on, they see governments elsewhere take action to help an industry that is clearly valued,” said SFA executive officer Daniel Lawson.
“The knock-on effects of Shetland’s fishing fleet being forced to tie up would be a hammer blow to the economy of our islands, the wider supply chain and to the nation’s entire food supply, with more fish landed here every year than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined.
“Ministers need to take notice, and action, now to help our fishing fleet keep feeding the nation.”
And a “mismatch” of low cod quota and abundant cod stocks around Shetland is compounding the fuel issue, according to the SFA.
With cod having to be avoided, but also being prevalent, the organisation says crews are being forced to fish less efficiently, meaning their boats use more fuel than would be necessary under “more realistic” quota levels.
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