MP urges protection of West Coast fishing jobs

The new extension to Kalin Harbour. SGD. 22230
The new extension to Kalin Harbour. SGD. 22230

Western Isles SNP MP, Angus MacNeil has urged fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead, to ensure fishermen on the West Coast who have been fishing in a sustainable manner are not penalised by measures introduced to ameliorate the impact of huge boats on last year’s fishing grounds.

Last year the time on the allocated time on the grounds was swallowed up by unsustainably large boats on the West Coast of Scotland fishery.

And as revealed in last week’s Gazette there is now great concern that much of the Western Isles’ prawn fishing fleet could be put out of business, in a move that would also have serious consequences for the local processing sector.

Mr MacNeil commented: “The fishing community was nearly devastated last summer when the fishing grounds looked as if they would be closed as early as August due to the fishing effort time, measured in kilowatt days, being swallowed up by vessels well over 500hp in engine size, arriving on the fishing grounds and fishing round the clock day after day. A practice alien to the more sustainable and balanced fishery of the West Coast of Scotland.

“Since then, fishermen have worked with emergency measures enabling them to fish for 16 days a month, to ensure Scotland does not fall fowl of the usual draconian and mostly senseless rules of the European common Fisheries Policy, which as ever, is driven by bureaucracy and bits of paper but is blind to the actual fish in the sea.

“Any changes being considered must ensure that the fishermen are allowed 95% of their track record or a minimum of 130 days on the ground, either that or the emergency measures must be kept in place until the end of January 2013.

“People within the fishing industry on the West Coast, tell me they seek to help the Scottish Government and their difficulties with Europe, not only by having accepted the emergency measures so far, which they did not cause, but by also accepting that the fishery could be closed for almost a month between mid December and mid January to reduce need for days at sea across the board amongst fishing vessels.

“Fishing communities are all too aware of the damage of opening the fishery again to unsustainable fishing practices would be, if it becomes ‘open all hours’ again. This would mean a reintroduction of emergency measures to ameliorate the situation, probably every second year, if not in fact every year.

“In Barra, where the problem might be most acute, the largest employer in the island, which is in the private sector could be wiped out, this would be socially devastating given already expensive transport costs and recent damaging steps to the community by the Western Isles Council, which savagely axed half the flights to the island.”

He added: “I would urge the Minister, unlike the Western Isles Council, to look at the social impact, the employment impact and the environmental sustainability as well as Europe’s bureaucratic fishing issues of what any decision could mean as it is no exaggeration to say that many people’s lives and livelihoods depend on Mr Lochhead’s conclusions.”