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Marine / Call for support on high fuel prices from fishermen and politicians

THE PROMISING future for Shetland’s fishing fleet hangs in the balance without government help to pay for the ever rising cost of marine diesel, industry leaders have warned.

With the cost of marine fuel in Shetland now almost three times the price of last year, the risk of businesses failing is very real.

The stark warning comes at the same time efforts to convince the UK Government to double the rural duty rate relief to 10p per litre for motorists in all rural and island communities won some momentum in the Commons.

The risk of fishing businesses failing is particularly prevalent in the whitefish sector, Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) said on Tuesday.

Ben Irvine of the Comrades. Photo: SFA

When local boats can justify the cost of fuel to go fishing, they find themselves towing alongside visiting vessels from France or Spain – whose national governments have redirected funds to assist fishing businesses and ensure food security.

SFA executive officer Daniel Lawson.

Executive officer Daniel Lawson said that with over a dozen young fishermen becoming owners or shareholders within the past six months the fuel cost crisis could not have come at a worst moment.

The price for marine diesel has been as high as £1.06 per litre, compared to 23.84 pence on 17 April 2020, at the start of the Covid pandemic.

Skipper of the whitefish trawler Defiant Robbie Jamieson, at age 25 one of the youngest in the fleet, said the cost of fuel has become “crippling”.

Having bought the second hand vessel last year in partnership with a number of equally young shareholders, they had been confident that they could make a living from fishing and continue an island tradition.

He said: “The current situation with cod quotas adds to the problem: as we have to try and avoid the abundance of cod in our waters – meaning we use even more fuel per trip. It isn’t financially sustainable, and we’ll struggle to keep going like this.”

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Meanwhile, the skipper of Comrades (LK 308), 24-year-old Ben Irvine, uses a seine net to catch whitefish – a fishing method which traditionally uses less fuel than trawling.

“Even for us, the cost of fuel has become a real problem. As a young crew, we have debts to pay off from purchasing the vessel last year,” he said.

“If our fuel bills stay so high, that becomes harder and harder to do – and the boat becomes less and less financially viable.”

Lawson said it was high time that ministers were making good on their promises and priorities around food security.

He said: “While Shetland boats face tying up, the waters around here are fished freely by vessels from other countries – where fishing is clearly valued, and governments have agreed to help their fleets bear the escalating costs.

“Rising fuel and energy bills are affecting every household and industry across the country, but fishing vessels in Shetland have seen the cost of marine diesel almost treble this year – and quadruple since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael. Photo: Shetland News

Meanwhile, isles MP Alistair Carmichael has backed calls for a rural fuel duty cut, pointing out that such a move could save local families hundreds of pounds this year.

Newly elected Lib Dems MP Richard Foord today tabled a motion calling on the government to increase the rebate on rural pumps from 5p to 10p per litre.

Combined with the party’s proposals to slash VAT to 17.5 per cent, the fuel duty cut would save a typical driver in the Northern Isles £7.60 each time they fill up their car, or almost £200 a year for those who fill up twice a month, Carmichael said.

“People are struggling with the rising cost of fuel, but the government has failed to act to shield families in the isles and elsewhere from soaring prices at the pump,” he said.

“Other parties should join us in the campaign to cut fuel duty and slash VAT, because it’s the right thing to do for those we represent. I’m hoping they’ll be able to put politics aside and support this campaign.”

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