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Fishermen sound warning over next ferry contract

Cargo boat The Hildasay.

FISHERMEN have reminded the Scottish Government to take into account Shetland’s export market when deciding on the next Northern Isles ferry contract.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins said a continued growth in landings in recent years means that capacity for the industry on the north boats should be a priority.

The publicly-funded service, currently run by Serco NorthLink, is expected to have its contract renewed in 2019 following a review of tendering policy of government contracts.

Whitefish landings surpassed 300,000 boxes in 2013 and have grown since, with nearly 14,000 tonnes worth £29 million sold last year.

There are no capacity issues on the boats at the moment, but fishermen believe landings will only increase when the UK leaves the EU and escapes the much-maligned Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

“As Scottish Government officials start to look towards the tender for the next Northern Isles ferry services contract, they need to reflect on the huge growth in fish landings and the fact that this will continue in the years ahead,” Collins said.

“Shetland is already the UK’s biggest fishing port after Peterhead, and most of our whitefish is exported to the mainland and beyond.

“Fishing is our biggest sector by far, and with stocks as healthy as they have been for decades and crews investing in the future, ministers need to recognise the importance of providing plenty of capacity in this vital first link in the export chain.”

He added that exiting the CFP should mean that more of fish caught in seas around the UK will go to local fishermen.

“Under the CFP almost 60 per cent of the UK’s fish stocks are caught by boats from EU countries; when we resume control of our seas that will no longer be the case,” Collins added.

“While at this point we would obviously seek to reach access agreements with our fellow coastal states, we would have first call on quota and would anticipate significant further growth in landings.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We will ensure that all the current and future needs of island families, businesses and sectors are considered as part our ongoing study into the future of lifeline ferry services to the Northern Isles.

“We are aware of the important role the fishing industry plays in the economy of Shetland and hope that the Shetland Fishermen’s Association will contribute their views and information to the study to help us develop the future specification for the Northern Isles ferry services.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021