Seafood bosses have demanded urgent action from Boris Johnson on labour shortages within the sector during a face-to-face meeting in Fraserburgh.
And leaders from across the wider fishing industry called on the prime minister to help the fleet recover from a “bad” Brexit deal, which left Scottish skippers with very few new catching opportunities as EU vessels continued to have full access to UK waters.
Scottish Seafood Association chief executive Jimmy Buchan outlined to the PM how Brexit and Covid-19 had combined to create a perilous situation for processors, with production and export capacity severely reduced.
After a lively meeting, Mr Buchan said: “I along with others from the catching sector made it plain to the prime minister that the Brexit deal had fallen far short of expectations.
“And most pertinently for the processing sector, I sought an assurance that the government would work closely with us to resolve the critical shortage of labour.
“He agreed that a campaign was required to encourage young people into the industry, and on the need for direct action to stem the haemorrhage of overseas workers that has occurred since January 1.”
Mr Buchan and Scotland Office minister David Duguid agreed to carry out further discussions on how to move forward.
Catch sector chiefs asked Mr Johnson for action – not words – on improving prospects for the fleet in five years’ time when post-Brexit arrangements are due to be revised.
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) chief executive Elspeth Macdonald said: “The prime minister has spoken previously of an El Dorado of fish from 2026 onwards but we are seeking a commitment from him to deliver much better opportunities for the Scottish fleet in the meantime, as well as in the longer term.
“In the short term it will be a case of survival for the industry, but we want to thrive, and to ensure that we can build back this industry we need to start planning now.”
Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association chief executive Mike Park pressed Mr Johnson to order an independent review of the “flawed” science behind proposed quota cuts for key species such as cod in 2022.
International marine scientists have recommended swingeing cuts.
Mr Park said: “Lack of fishing opportunities for our key commercial species at a time of abundant stocks is holding the white-fish fleet back severely, and it’s about to get a lot worse because of over-zealous faith in flawed science.
Science ‘totally at odds with what skippers see daily’
“With the Covid-19 pandemic, the value of accurate science has become glaringly obvious, yet in our sector jobs and income for the fleet are at risk from partial, single-source science that is totally at odds with what skippers see daily on the grounds and is never subjected to independent review.
“We need scientific evidence that can command the trust of everyone to help deliver secure and sustainable fishing.”
With the PM due to visit an offshore windfarm, Ms Macdonald also called on him to establish a clear principle for developers of avoiding fishing grounds when locating turbines.
She added: “More renewable energy is clearly vital in the fight against climate change.
“But we need also to recognise that fish is a healthy protein foodstuff with a very low carbon footprint, compared with all other animal and many plant-based sources.
“As well as the lack of fishing opportunities, the industry is facing a spatial squeeze as offshore wind grows. The wind blows in many more places than fish swim, and for both sectors to flourish, decisions must be made that allow for us to co-exist successfully.”
SFF president Ian Gatt said: “We were pleased the prime minister agreed to sign the book of condolences in the Fishermen’s Mission memorial room, in tribute to the fishermen who lost their lives when going to sea to catch our food.”