Plans for a £40million quayside expansion at Peterhead harbour have received enthusiastic backing from UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice.
After visiting the site yesterday, he told the Press and Journal the “exciting” proposals would help keep Europe’s busiest white-fish port at the heart of the industry for years to come.
Mr Eustice began the day at Peterhead’s fish market, having taken part in an independence referendum debate at Dingwall the evening before.
He was on his way to Fraserburgh when the P&J sought his views on the looming discards ban and the fishing rules for 2015, as well as the plans for Peterhead harbour.
The minister said he understood fishers’ concerns about how the ban, which will be phased in from the start of next year, will work in practice.
While delighting an environmental lobby outraged by the wasteful practice, there is growing uncertainty about how it can succeed in Scotland’s complex white-fish fisheries.
Mr Eustice said: “We recognise it will be a challenge, but the (EU) agreement we got at the end of last year means there is lots of flexibility to make it work.”
Fishers will be able to transfer quota between species and “bank and borrow” in different years, he added.
He warned skippers they also face a challenging time from whatever emerges from the next round of end-of-year talks on catch limits and days-at-sea rules.
Influential science body the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has recommended a tough line for some key North Sea stocks such as cod, whiting, saithe and herring.
The minister repeated past assertions that the interests of Scotland’s fishing industry were best served by “the most successful and political union the world has ever known” fighting its corner.
He told the P&J the outcome of September’s referendum would have no impact on his strategy for the end-of-year fishing talks in Brussels.
Proposed developments at Peterhead include the deepening of both the north and south harbours – nearly doubling their depth to more than 21ft – and their approaches to provide unrestricted access and berthing in safe, weather-protected inner basins.
Port bosses also want to build a new fish market on the site of the harbour’s former Greenhill selling facility.
A larger fish market is seen as central to meeting future demand following a recent increase in landings and encouraging news about the health of some key stocks.
If 25% funding from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund is secured early in 2015, work on the overall project could start next June and be completed before the end of 2016.