NORTHERN Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has said that safety is at stake on fishing boats unless the government eases visa applications to allow potential crewmen into the UK.
Carmichael told parliament on Thursday that one of the biggest problems for fishing fishing vessel safety was undermanning.
He asked parliamentary under-secretary of state for transport Nusrat Ghani to intervene with the Home Office.
Carmichael said: “One of the biggest problems facing fishing vessel safety at the moment is boats going to sea undermanned.
“Will the minister use her office to make a proper assessment of that and then pass her findings on to the Home Office in order to inform their considerations about the opportunities for getting more crew in from non-EEA countries?”
Ghani said: “Trying to encourage, recruit, and retain people to work in the fishing, port and shipping sector is a priority for the department. We know how difficult it is to attract people that are not already in contact with fishing ports and ships, and we are doing what we can to encourage people to think of shipping, and fishing, and ports as a job going forward.
“We have set up a number of initiatives, especially this year under the year of engineering to try and get young people especially, to think of being employed in shipping, ports and fishing, and we will share that work with any government department that wishes to see it.”
Later, Carmichael said that while he agreed with the minister’s statement, it did not address the short term need to get more fishermen into the industry.
He added: “The problems caused by fishing boats not getting the crew that they need because of visa restrictions is a real one now. I have heard of cases in the last few days where boats are having to go to sea even if they are short of a hand or two. I understand the pressures that fishermen are under but this is something that can only be a stop gap and if it continues could end badly.
“Earlier this week I meet the immigration minister along with MPs from other fishing communities and put forcefully to her the need for a more workable scheme than the one that we currently have where crew members from places such as the Philippines are relying on so-called transit visas to work on British boats.
“That works for no one. The fishing industry needs a scheme of its own so that we can meet the labour shortages. The agricultural industry has a scheme for sheep shearers as do other sectors. Fishing should be given the same chances. Our meeting with the minister was not particularly productive but I shall keep on pressing the case until they see sense.”