'Attacked' Scottish fishing industry issues plea to John Swinney amid worker shortage

There are plenty of challenges facing John Swinney as he takes up the post of First Minister - the economy, the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS.

But in coastal and island communities across Scotland, people are hoping his new government can transform the fishing industry.

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Ever since Brexit, recruiting enough fishermen to sustain the iconic Scottish fishing fleet has been challenging. For a long time, the industry has relied on a huge number of fishermen coming to Scotland from overseas.

However, Brexit rule changes now mean they need a skilled workers’ visa to do this. This visa has a very high English language requirement, something very few overseas fishermen are able to meet.

For years the industry has been calling for fishermen to get a language exemption for these visas, calling the requirements “disproportionate”, but so far that has not happened. On top of this, the minimum salary threshold for this visa also rose from £26,200 to £38,700 last month.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation now say the new-look Scottish Government needs to do more to attract Scots to become fishermen instead, so the industry doesn’t have to rely so much on overseas recruitment.

Speaking to The Scotsman, Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the federation, said: “The workforce is still a challenge for the industry, both at sea and processing onshore. We are making some progress, but it is difficult and that is likely to continue unless there is a change of focus on how we source labour.

Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s FederationElspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation
Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation | Scottish Fishermen's Federation

“We need to look at how we can create more interest in the fishing industry from the domestic workforce, and that all depends on it being seen as an industry with a positive future and not one being attacked.”

Ms Macdonald said recent government interventions had badly damaged the industry’s image, which she believed was one of the reasons why fewer Scots were aspiring to become fishermen.

One of the most contentious policies, which have now been dropped, was a proposal to introduce highly-protected marine areas (HPMAs). These would have banned fishing in around 10 per cent of Scottish waters.

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The federation is still fearful of HPMAs being introduced under a different guise in the future, as the Government led by former first minister Humza Yousaf vowed to look at “enhanced marine protection”. But she said she now hoped Mr Swinney could work with the industry to make it an attractive place to work.

Ms Macdonald said: “We really want to be able to showcase the industry, but it is a tricky industry to get people into. It is not an easy industry - you need to work anti-social hours and be away on boats.

“It is not a nine-to-five job, it is not for everyone. But the more we can get government commitment in the long term, the more we will see positive benefits for Scotland. Anything the Government can do to showcase the industry in a positive light is helpful.”

She added: “The tone is changing, and we need to see policy matching the change in tone.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government has always aimed to make working as a fisherman an attractive career of choice. We are supporting industry through securing the best possible annual fishing quotas as well as financially through Marine Fund Scotland. Any efforts to recruit more locally will always be supported in whatever way we can.”



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