Welcoming the announcement, Mr MacInnes, secretary of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, said the two main themes – infrastructure and training – are both highly relevant to island needs.
He looked forward to working with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in order to put forward the strongest possible bids. Mr MacInnes said: “It’s like everything else – the devil will be in the detail but on the face of it, this appears to tick our boxes”.
The Fund has been criticised by the Scottish Government because the intention is for money to go direct to fishing communities throughout the UK rather than by being distributed, within Scotland, through Edinburgh.
Mairi Gougeon, the SNP rural affairs secretary, denounced this approach, saying: “It is for Scottish ministers, accountable to the Scottish parliament, to make decisions about how marine and fisheries funding is spent in line with our priorities”.
However, the Western Isles industry – which has often been marginalised by more powerful east coast interests – sees opportunity in being able to bid direct into the Fund, the vast majority of which has been earmarked “for projects such as modernising ports and harbours alongside increasing capacity and efficiency at processing and aquaculture facilities”
The reference to aquaculture chimes with recent demands for investment in areas like Loch Roag which have long yielded revenues for the Crown Estate from fish farming but have seen minimal public investment in return. The Fund offers an obvious opportunity to remedy this.
According to DEFRA: “A competition will be run to identify the best projects, prioritising those that reduce carbon emissions, helping increase the sustainability of the sector and contributing towards the UK’s commitment to reach Net Zero by 2050.
“Up to £10 million will also be used to encourage new entrants into the processing, catching and aquaculture sectors, alongside training and upskilling current workers. We will do this by offering an improved package of training to people joining the industry and making it easier for people from coastal communities to progress through their career”.
Mr MacInnes was concerned about a parallel announcement which would impose a condition that 70 per cent of crews should be UK nationals. The Gazette contacted DEFRA and it was confirmed that this is a devolved matter and the policy will apply only to vessels registered and licensed in England.
Similarly, a proposal to impose minimum limits on catches landed in the UK applies to English vessels only. Those which do not comply would have to hand back quota. In this case, Scotland may follow a similar approach which, said Mr MacInnes, could release increased quota for the west coast.
Ms Gougeon said recently: “We will move to increase the amount of catch landed at Scottish ports by introducing new economic link arrangements for Scottish vessels in 2023”.