A tightening-up of UK immigration rules is starving west coast fishing boats of crew, an MP has warned.
Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil said he was expecting a swift response from Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill after raising the plight of boats having to be tied up due to a lack of crew.
Mr MacNeil said: “This is an extremely serious situation and the UK Government’s current position on temporary work visas for non-EU fishermen is hindering a solution.
“In an area with population decline, it is increasingly difficult to recruit locally.
“Previously, many boats used seamen from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) which worked well for everyone and boosted the local economy.
“Indeed many of those previously employed are still in touch with their old skippers to ask when they can come back.
“The position of the UK Government seems even stranger, given that temporary sheep shearers from outside the EEA are permitted to come into the UK during the spring.
“I am expecting an imminent response from the immigration minister on this matter.”
The MP has been told more than 60 additional skilled crew are needed to allow the isles’ fleet to work to full capacity.
There are believed to be at least seven boats currently tied up, including four in Stornoway and three on Barra.
Western Isles Fishermen’s Association secretary Duncan Macinnes said crew shortages were having a major impact on the west coast prawn fishery.
“The local economy is suffering badly from not being able to have skilled crew,” Mr Macinnes said, adding the tie-ups were also costing the Treasury through lost tax revenue.
Mr MacNeil has been fighting the industry’s corner over UK immigration policy for many years.
The problem stems from a ruling that fishing vessels working within the 12-mile limit of UK territorial waters must not employ crew from outside the European Union.
The UK Border Agency, which is now part of UK Visas and Immigration, said at the time the move was to protect local jobs and stop exploitation.
Yesterday, a Home Office spokesman said: “We are committed to delivering an immigration system which works in the best interests of the country.
“It is right that employers look first to the resident workforce before recruiting from overseas.
“All industries operating in the country must adhere to UK immigration laws, including fishing companies operating within UK waters.”