£1.9 million awarded to Scottish fishermen

Jimmy Buchan has welcomed the introduction of the fund
Jimmy Buchan has welcomed the introduction of the fund

A fishing hardship fund has awarded £1.9 million to white fish and prawn fishermen from across Scotland.

The cash boost was announced last summer by the Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead.

The Scottish Government took this initiative in response to very poor catches of prawns in the North Sea last year which placed fishing businesses under severe pressure.

The poor catch rates also diverted effort into the white fish sector putting additional pressure on fishing opportunities.

Funding has been awarded to 113 vessels from across Scotlandwith the North East receiving 59 awards worth £1,174,605.

Following consultation with industry representatives, the Government will make payments to vessels that failed in 2013 to achieve a net profit of £17,000.

Payments will be made to increase vessels profit to this level, up to a maximum of £24,714, the maximum allowed under the EU’s State Aid rules.

Mr Lochhead said: “The fishing industry is very important to Scotland’s economy and contributed £500 million last year. It is the lifeblood of many local communities supporting over 5,000 costal jobs across Scotland.

“These awards will help those experiencing substantial hardship to remain viable. The money can be used towards the costs of new or repaired sets of gear along with some minor maintenance work or costs in maintaining lifesaving equipment.”

Bertie Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said: “This assistance was fought for by the industry and agreed by Scottish Government and we are very pleased to see the hardship scheme becoming a reality.

“It is specifically targeted at boats with a viable future but who need some short term help in the face of challenges outside anyone’s control - an investment for a sustainable future.”

However, local skipper Jimmy Buchan is concerned that not enough is being done to protect workers’ earnings.

He said: “I welcome the financial assistance awarded to the fishing industry and I am sure those who received awards are grateful, however it failed to address the reduced earnings of the local fishermen who crew the vessels.

“Crew wages have been severely affected in the last few years due to the high charges on leasing fish and reduced fishing opportunities due to a very difficult shellfish season, bad weather and regulation agreed in the EU.

“I am somewhat disappointed that Marine Scotland failed to look at the wider picture and invest in the long term future with some assistance for crews of the vessels who are vitally important to the industry.

Jimmy continued: “In order to keep my own vessel viable I had to diversify into other fisheries due to scarcity of langoustines on the grounds. This was due to the long extended Winter/ Spring season in 2013.

“This had a severe effect on the wages my crew were able to earn as costs were spiralling out of control and I, as vessel owner, was powerless to control it.

“Vessel owners were forced into other fisheries that were costly to undertake resulting in added costs as they tried to keep crews together and make ends meet.

Jimmy added: “We badly need to attract young men into this industry and current policy and regulation is driving them out.

“I have made this point clear at every opportunity I have had to the First Minister Alex Salmond and his cabinet colleague Richard Lochhead.

“Having healthy seas and stocks is one thing, having skippers and crews is equally important and should not be overlooked.”