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Brexit / New support scheme unlikely to benefit fishing vessels

Whitefish trawlers at Lerwick's Mair's Quay. Photo: Shetland News

FISHING vessel owners are unlikely to be able to make a compensation claim for lost earnings under the UK Government’s new £23 million support scheme.

Many seafood exporters suffered significant losses due to the Brexit trade disruption during the first two weeks of the year.

To avoid further losses the local whitefish fleet voluntarily tied up for a period until fish exporters were confident again that fresh seafood from Shetland would reach the main market in France on time again.

Around half of all the whitefish landed at Shetland’s two fish market is exported to the continent.

Some in the industry, and in politics, have asked whether the boats could be compensated for the disruption to fishing, but Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins said the current understanding of the scheme was that this is unlikely.

“To say ‘I couldn’t go to sea because there was no market’ is likely not good enough. It has to be an actual loss. It’s the guys who bought the fish who are having the loss,” he said.

“That is as far as we gather at this time, but we haven’t seen the details of the scheme yet; hardly anybody has, and there may not even be details yet.”

Fishermen also did not lose any quota by scaling back their fishing efforts in early January.

Meanwhile, Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has written to rural affairs secretary George Eustice seeking clarification of who will be eligible to claim under the scheme.

He said: “We need immediate clarity on the detail of the compensation scheme. I have already heard of businesses which have taken losses saying they do not think they will be able to access the support so clear guidance is vital.

“Funds to make good the losses incurred by local businesses are welcome but they are only part of the story. It is welcome news that groupage shipments are starting to move again but isles companies tell me that they cannot see a return to a “Day 1 – Day 2” service for small groupage any time soon.

“If slower service becomes the norm then it undermines the outstanding freshness isles seafood is known for – a long-term risk to our competitiveness.”

And the SNP’s candidate for the forthcoming election to the Scottish Parliament, Tom Wills, demanded that all Scottish businesses in the seafood sector are compensated in full for their Brexit-induced losses.

“The situation is urgent,” he said. “The Tories sold out our fishing industry on the way into Europe and they’ve done so all over again on the way out.

“The package announced so far by the UK government is simply not good enough. We need to see a major compensation package for all of the industry, including fishing boats, while Boris Johnson gets back on the phone to Brussels to sort this mess out immediately.

“In the short term we need a grace period and a new customs deal. But it is clearer than ever that the only way to properly protect our interests and industries is to become an independent European country.”