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Marine / Additional help for inshore fishing sector

A scallop dredger works the waters off Lunna at the weekend. Photo: Shetland News

INSHORE fishermen hit by the sudden closure of many of their UK and European markets as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have been thrown a further £2 million lifeline by the Scottish Government.

Shellfish boats will now be able to access additional fish quota to help them diversify into new markets by accessing different fishing opportunities.

The government said this latest help was potentially worth up to £2 million for the inshore fleet.

In March, an initial package of £5 million was offered to around 650 Scottish full-time shellfishmen who had lost their livelihoods when the export and hospitality markets collapsed.

This additional quota includes 800 tonnes of mackerel (500 tonnes in the North Sea and 300 tonnes in the west coast) as well as additional demersal quotas including haddock, monkfish, whiting, pollack, saithe, ling, lemon sole and skates and rays.

Chief executive of Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation (SFPO), Brian Isbister, said the announcement was welcome but pointed out that the reference to ‘additional’ quota opportunity was somewhat misleading as in different circumstances this quota would have been allocated to a larger sector of the industry.

“This announcement provides for an increased mackerel quota for the under 10m metre boats which regularly jig for this stock from the early summer through to late autumn period,” Isbister said.

“This will come as welcome news to the large fleet of vessels now involved in Shetland. The rest of the quota on offer, most of which wouldn’t create a directed fishery on its own, at least not for very many vessels based in Shetland, is much less likely to make a difference.

“Shetland’s inshore fleet, while not catching shellfish, has developed two distinct and very successful hook and line fisheries for both cod and mackerel.

“There are only a relatively small number of the inshore fleet based in Shetland equipped with either trawl gear or have long-line gear that might be  better suited to catch the other quota stocks on offer.”

Fisheries secretary Fergus Ewing said Scotland’s seafood fishing sector has been one of the hardest hit due to the collapse of the international shellfish market, causing significant challenges for families, businesses and local communities in some of the most remote rural and island communities.

“With continued uncertainty regarding future market access and demand, this additional £2 million of potential fishing opportunities will provide scope for some vessels to diversify, and help families and businesses in our coastal communities,” the MSP said.

“It also has the potential to ensure that more people in the UK get to enjoy locally and sustainably caught fish from our waters and I hope retailers will play their part in making that happen.”