The Scottish Government is holding onto valuable mackerel quota while it gauges the success of voluntary efforts by fishers to help increase the amount of fish they land into the country’s ports.
Finlay Carson, fisheries spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, has accused the SNP administration at Holyrood of “holding fishermen to ransom”.
Earlier this year, it emerged Scotland’s fishing fleet may be given new targets for landings into the country’s ports.
The move is being looked at in order to deter boats, particularly in the pelagic sector, catching species including mackerel and herring, from landing their fish abroad.
Scottish vessels landed 38% of their total catch by volume and 25% of it by value into foreign ports in 2015, which is the most recent year for which there are figures.
The bulk of the volume of fish landed overseas that year (95%) comprised pelagic species, with mackerel worth £75million accounting for 70% of the total.
Rural Economy and Connectivity Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing told MSPs in parliament a few months ago that recent attempts to introduce a voluntary scheme to encourage more skippers to land into Scottish ports had achieved “very little progress”.
Yesterday, a government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government actually increased the mackerel quota last year.
“It is only this proportion that we are holding temporarily while we evaluate the voluntary action taken by the pelagic sector towards more landings into Scotland and how they support our onshore processing factories and jobs.
“The cabinet secretary has been meeting those involved in the issue and the quota situation will be clarified well in advance of the next mackerel fishery.”
According to the Scottish Conservatives, the government is holding onto 12% of the 2017 mackerel quota in a “disproportionate move that holds fishermen to ransom”.
Calling on Mr Ewing to release the quota, Mr Carson said withholding it was not the way to go.
Mr Carson added: “Without quota, fishermen cannot catch any fish. If they cannot catch any fish, they cannot make a living.
“Withholding part of the mackerel quota, the most important fishery in Scotland, only seeks to play with the livelihoods of hard-working Scottish fishermen.
“This is an entirely disproportionate decision by the Scottish Government. Fergus Ewing is apparently intent on achieving his landings targets at any cost.
“While I fully support the ambition to see more fish landed in Scotland’s ports, holding fishermen to ransom is not the way to achieve this.”