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25/07/13 10:29

£6m boost for Scottish fishing

Action plan for prawn and white fisheries.

Fishermen will be offered help to deal with the current pressures facing the industry through an action plan unveiled today.

Prawn and white fish fishermen in Scotland have faced tough conditions in recent years with high fuel prices, export markets under pressure and the EU’s Cod Recovery Plan (CRP) having a detrimental effect. The dramatic fall in the availability of prawns has also caused the fleet to experience exceptionally hard times so far this year.

The five-point action plan includes the following measures underpinned by up to £6 million in funding:

  • The establishment of a £3 million hardship fund for fishermen who may be facing exceptional stresses on their viability
  • An invitation to vessels to trial a discard-free prawn fishery this year by fishing with gears that eliminate whitefish by-catch. These vessels will have additional time at sea to catch their quotas where necessary, and we will look to secure, through European funding, a guaranteed income as they adapt to new ways of working

It also encompasses:

  • Alternative support for vessels not joining the discard free trial, with help to develop new fishing gears and measures to achieve the discard reduction targets
  • Removing, where possible, barriers that stop fishermen diversifying into alternative sustainable fisheries
  • Measures (and potentially additional funding) to promote our seafood sector and develop a Scottish brand to support the onshore sector in maximising economic growth

Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead, who made the announcement as he visited the North Atlantic Fisheries College in Shetland, said:

“The fishing industry is very important to Scotland’s economy and contributed £500 million last year. It is the lifeblood of many local communities supporting over 5,000 coastal jobs across Scotland including many here in Shetland.

“Scottish seafood is famed across Europe and our fishermen are being applauded for blazing a trail in terms of fisheries conservation but there are many big challenges facing one of our most vital sectors.

“Issues such as volatile international markets and environmental factors such as a scarcity of prawns appearing on the grounds have meant many fishermen have been experiencing exceptionally tough times. And all this at time when regulatory changes such as the transition to discard free fisheries are just around the corner.

“The Scottish Government wants to support our fishing industry and their communities as they seek to overcome short term challenges. We also want to help fishermen adapt to a future where they will no longer discard any of their catch.

“As we work together to implement this action plan, we will also discuss what further steps can be taken by industry and Government to strengthen the resilience and adaptability of businesses in the fishing industries.”

Welcoming the action plan, Bertie Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said:

"There are some very severe and specific challenges facing the Scottish prawn and whitefish fleets. This action plan demonstrates the Government's recognition of that and the 5 headlines closely reflect the recent tough discussions with industry.

“Frustratingly, some of the critical problems such as fuel price and external regulation are outside government and industry direct control, however, there is much that can be done and we look forward to developing with government the offered actions as soon as possible.”

Notes to editors

1. The Scottish Government has taken action because of the exceptionally tough circumstances faced by Scottish fishermen in 2013. The position has been most acute in the prawn (“Nephrops”) fishery, where catches in the North Sea this year have been down by over a half compared with 2012. The Government action plan is available to view on the Scottish Government’s website - http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/marine/Sea-Fisheries/common-fisheries-policy/action

2. Prawn fishing is Scotland’s second most valuable fishery (after mackerel) and is prosecuted by many hundreds of Scottish fishing vessels. In 2011, 23,000 tonnes of prawns were landed by Scottish vessels, worth £84.3 million. Prawns were landed either whole, and often sold to high value markets on the continent, or as “tails” (scampi) and sold into the domestic market.

3. The lower prawn catches have meant that prawn fisherman have had to diversify into other fisheries, leading to increased demand and lease prices for whitefish (e.g. cod, haddock, whiting) fish quotas. Reduced prawn catches have therefore had an impact on the wider fleet that catches whitefish.

4. The reasons for the lower catches have not yet been fully explained, but could be down to environmental factors, including the colder weather at the start of the year. Most recent scientific advice suggests that over-fishing is not a problem in the North Sea: harvest rates (proportion of the stock removed) are relatively low and the stock is currently being fished well below the agreed target rates consistent with the EU target of “Maximum Sustainable Yield” (MSY). Government scientists published an article about the lower levels of abundance earlier this year http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2013/05/Prawns22052013

5. Among the actions the Government has established a £3 million hardship fund. Following the announcement of the action plan the Government will invite proposals from the fishing industry and other interested parties about how this money could be best spent to support the Scottish fleet. The Government will also monitor carefully the progress of prawn fishing to gauge whether current pressures are easing and in light of this to assess the requirement for deployment of the hardship fund. Once these consultations and considerations have concluded the Government will inform individual fishermen about whether and at what level they can apply for support. The Government will also consult with the fishing industry about whether longer term measures should be taken to support the development of the fishing industry.