Fisheries associations in the Western Isles and other islands have combined forces to urge the Scottish Government to protect the industry in the island groups.
They are seeking a meeting with Transport and Islands Minister Derek Mackay to present 10 recommendations which would help secure a future for the three fisheries-dependent communities.
Commercial fishing is economically and culturally vital to the islands and accounts for around a quarter of landings, vessels and jobs in the industry in Scotland.
Fiona Matheson, secretary of the Orkney Fisheries Association, said: “As everyone in the islands knows, fishing is an absolutely essential part of economic life and it’s time this was reflected in devolved powers for the industry.
“There is all-party support for such devolution to the islands and the three island groups have come forward with 10 very practical, sensible recommendations for fisheries which we hope the minister and his colleagues in government will take very seriously.”
In a letter to Mr Mackay, Ms Matheson, Simon Collins, executive officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, and Duncan MacInnes, secretary of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, recommend:
· Recognition of the islands’ traditional fishing rights and access to fishing grounds
· Designation of the islands as “small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing” as set out in the reformed Common Fisheries Policy
· Provision for an “opt-out” for locally-based vessels from fisheries regulations and management powers devolved to the Scottish Government, e.g. the proposed new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
· A fair allocation of EU fisheries grants that reflects the islands’ importance to Scottish fisheries
· Control over Seafish levy receipts from the islands
· A meaningful say in the specifications for ferry contracts between the islands and the mainland and over which operator is chosen
· Allowing the islands to alter local fisheries and environmental management boundaries out to their 12-mile limit, if they so wish
· Derogations from EU rules on new vessel builds and improvements, state aid and shellfish toxin testing
· More stringent protection against marine pollution
· A presumption in favour of local employment in island planning applications for new aquaculture developments.
Mr MacInnes said: “Changes to fishing rules and regulations not only affect the industry in the islands, they have an impact on the very communities themselves, so we must have stronger protection for our traditional rights.”
Mr Collins said: “Fishing runs through the lifeblood of these communities and has done for thousands of years, but government action – and sometimes inaction – can have a disproportionate effect. We are looking to insulate the islands from what can very often be unintended consequences.”