‘Halt the damage,’ pleads fishermen's leader

The industry is bracing itself for further restrictions on where they will be allowed to fish.The industry is bracing itself for further restrictions on where they will be allowed to fish.
The industry is bracing itself for further restrictions on where they will be allowed to fish.
One of the most important vessels in the Western Isles fishing fleet is in the process of being sold, with an economic loss to the islands of £750,000 per annum, in response to continuing uncertainty over environmental restrictions.

It is understood that the vessel will leave the islands once the sale is completed, probably by the end of this month.

The vessel cannot be named prior to then but Duncan Macinnes, secretary of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, said this week: “It confirms the damage that has already been done and will continue to be done as long as uncertainty exists.

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“They have decided with all the restrictions imposed on them and further proposed restrictions coming down the tracks, they are selling up. This is a really serious blow for the islands’ economy and the same factors have prevented other people from investing in the industry”.

Mr Macinnes called for “constructive engagement from the SNP-Green government before any further restrictions are imposed and the required Island Economic Impact Assessment undertaken and published.”

In line with other industry figures, he described the Scottish Government’s apparent climbdown over HPMAs as “a red herring” as the statement at Holyrood made clear that other designations are being pursued which will have much the same impact.

He said: “HPMAs should not have been considered in the first place because they were politically driven with no scientific justification whatsoever. The Greens are still in control with priority now given to progressing Priority Marine Features outside Marine Protection Areas, resulting in additional closures along with introducing management to sites already designated.”

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He said the Scottish Government has already spent £1.25 million on remote electronic monitoring across the fleet that includes fitting of cameras and winch sensors aboard scallop dredge vessels which should enable accurate zoning of where PMFs are located. “This clearly shows that those features exist in balance with fishing activity at current levels of effort.”

“Instead of adding further restrictions on top of what already exist over huge areas, they should be righting the wrongs of the past”, said Mr

Macinnes, instancing the Mingulay Reefs which were closed to fishing in 2016 in order to protect coral.

“Everyone knows there is no coral growing on mud yet the creel fishermen in Barra have lost in excess of £1 million due to the muddy areas they fished being closed”, said Mr Macinnes.

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Mr Macinnes’s plea follows a sceptical response from fishing interests throughout the islands to the Holyrood statement by Cabinet Secretary, Mairi McAllan, which said the introduction of HPMAs by 2026 is no longer being pursued.

She added that they were committed to putting the other measures in place “as soon as possible” and welcomed “the constructive engagement I have had with the Green group”.