Threat to Western Isles prawn fishing fleet

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

Much of the Western Isles prawn fishing fleet could be ‘put out of business’ if Marine Scotland gets the go-ahead to reduce their fishing effort by 15 per cent in the year ahead in a move which could also have serious consequences for the processing sector.

Plans to give skippers just 85 per cent of their average days in 2009, 10 and 11 or a minimum of 100 days could put vessels out of business and have a devastating impact on the local economy.

This is the fear expressed by the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association as they urge Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead to reject Marine Scotland’s recommendations and opt instead to reduce fishing effort by just 5 per cent.

The reduction is necessary due to an overshoot last year caused by the the arrival of 48 large horsepowered vessels from the East Coast which interfered with the normal level of fishing by the small, low powered West coast fleet.

However industry chiefs argue it is unfair to punish the west coast fleet for a problem they did not create and a payback of the overshoot from last year over the next two years would be a much more feasible option.

In a letter to Western Isles MP and MSP, Duncan Macinnes, Secretary of the Western Isles Fishermen Association said the move had the potential to ‘impact on the future viability of at least 12 or 13 affected vessels’.

“Clearly it is extremely unfair to penalise the traditional West Coast prawn fleet that have not altered their fishing pattern over the years and force them to absorb a 15% reduction in effort. This will also have severe implications for the processing sector, in particular, Barratlantic Ltd with all the vessels landing there affected by the reduction in effort.

“Some vessels will see their 2013-14 fishing effort reduced by five weeks and this impact is too severe when the local economy is so fragile and permanently dependent on fishing, with prawns accounting for over two thirds of all landings by value.”

Fears were expressed by local fishermen in June last year through the Stornoway Gazette about the devastating effect the influx of east coast fishing boats could have on the local economy. Eventually emergency measures were put in place and will remain until April 14th until this issue is resolved.

The current situation has also been raised by Jamie McGrigor, Highlands & Islands Conservative MSP and the Scottish Conservative Fisheries Spokesman, who has united with Councillor Donald Kelly (South Kintyre) to urge the Scottish Government to reconsider the course of action.

Jamie McGrigor MSP, who has also been approached on the subject by representatives of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association, said: “The Scottish Government has been aware of this issue for many months now and I myself have raised it with Ministers a number of times.

“ West Coast prawn fishermen, who continue to fish their traditional fishing grounds in a sustainable way, face being severely penalised due to the actions of boats from the other side of Scotland. They are not to blame for this state of affairs and must be given practical, usable options by Ministers that allow them to fish for more than 2.5 days per week. The current Marine Scotland proposals are potentially devastating for the businesses of skippers and the crew that work with them, as well as the onshore processing sector which depends on their catch.

“ I have written to the Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead and urge him to intervene personally to find a solution that does not harm the West Coast prawn fishing sector.”