The Rural Affairs and, Islands and Natural Environment Committee hears evidence on pressing issues facing Scotland’s inshore fishermen
Issues facing inshore fishermen in Scotland was brought before the Rural Affairs and, Islands and Natural Environment Committee on Wednesday 26 October 2022.
Members of the Committee heard from fishing representatives and environmental non-governmental organisations on issues including sustainable fishing, the spatial squeeze, bottom-trawling, the current economic hardships faced by fishermen and crewing issues.
Sheila Keith from the Shetland Fishermen’s Association pointed out that fisheries are facing increased pressures in many areas. The list is very lengthy. Pressures include those relating to new developments coming into the waters and a lack of science to back up arguments that come from environmental non-governmental organisations. Regulatory authorities are also causing pressures. She said, “We need to tackle that.”
Simon MacDonald from the West Coast Inshore Fisheries Group said that in his opinion he saw two major factors affecting the fishing industry just now. He said:
“The number one factor is probably spatial squeeze, but almost equal to that is the visa situation for crew.
“On spatial squeeze, more and more offshore renewables projects are being developed, but there is a great lack of consultation with our industry. Valuable fishing ground is being taken up by the farms without consultation with fishermen. Fishermen would be quite willing to say, “There is a better space over here, which is fine, because it is not fishable or will not affect spawning grounds,” because there are cases of projects and developments being put in important haddock spawning grounds. To my mind, that is a major issue that will have a long-term effect.”
Elaine Whyte representing the Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance said the main issue facing fishing, particularly inshore fishing, relates to nuance and a lack of understanding.
She told the Committee, “I saw a campaign the other week that said that we should ban industrial fishing, including all fishing that is mobile. There has to be an understanding that a Chinese industrial fishing boat is not similar to a 10m trawler.
“I had a quick look over some of the briefings. I noticed that the Scottish Parliament information centre briefing said that some mobile boats could go offshore. Some of the mobile boats that we represent are quite small—under 14m or under 10m—so there is not the option to go offshore. It is not as simple as one and one. We represent all types of boats. I noticed in the statistics that it said that, from 2017 to 2021, we lost 12 over-10m mobile fishing boats. We have not; we have lost about 48 if you look at how the licences go—even more if you take that spell a bit higher.”
Ms Whyte also brought up the issue of a shortage of skilled crews, She said, “On skilled workers, I noticed that the briefing said that it costs a few thousand pounds to bring people in. However, there was the example of a Welsh fisherman trying to bring in some skilled workers, and it cost him more than £40,000 and it took more than five months to get any labour. We are talking about areas where depopulation and local labour are major issues. We need to understand the nuances, because the figures might not be quite what you think they are.
“There is a real issue with communication between people and with hyperbole, in a sense. We need to sit down and talk about things. It might be said that 95 per cent of an area is being fished but, when you look at it, you might find that fishing is possible in only 13 per cent or less of that area. We need to get down to the nuances, and that is, I think, what we are here to discuss today.”
Hannah Fennell of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation concurred with her fellow fishing representative saying,
“Elaine Whyte is right. Inshore fisheries face a lot of issues, including economic issues, social issues and issues with our management. A lot of the issues that inshore fisheries face—those to do with labour, the cost of fuel and so on—might not be specific to fishing, but those pressures are acute because inshore fisheries often work in more remote areas. Inshore fisheries also struggle because we are talking about small businesses. They consist of one or two individuals or are sole traders or partnerships, so they do not have a lot of resources to fall back on. Over the years, that lack of resilience has corroded the industry.
“The situation is exacerbated by the current management system for inshore fishing, which does not allow for much flexibility. For example, our fishers in Orkney struggle because we are, in essence, a mono-fishery—we can fish for only crab and lobster. When Covid came along and when Brexit affected the markets, we could not pivot to anything else, just because of how the management structure works. That exacerbates the pressures that we already face.”
* Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
* Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)
* Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
* Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
* Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
* Jim Fairlie (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
* Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)
* Jenni Minto (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
* Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)
The following also participated:
Bally Philp (Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation)
Calum Duncan (Marine Conservation Society)
Hannah Fennell (Scottish Fishermen’s Federation)
Lucy Kay (Coastal Communities Network)
Sheila Keith (Shetland Fishermen’s Association)
Simon MacDonald (West Coast Inshore Fisheries Group)
Charles Millar (Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust)
Dr Fiona Read (Whale and Dolphin Conservation)
Phil Taylor (Open Seas Trust)
Elaine Whyte (Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance)
Clerk to the committee