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Skye fishermen who invested £40,000 into new business claim livelihoods are at risk amid Covid-19 funding woes

James Cameron and Alberto Morales Utrera with their boat Concord at Kyleakin, Syke.
James Cameron and Alberto Morales Utrera with their boat Concord at Kyleakin, Syke.

A pair of young north fishermen claim they’re missing out on vital government funding which could help tide their business over during the coronavirus pandemic.

James Cameron and Alberto Moralez Utrera invested more than £40,000 after deciding to go it alone within the Isle of Skye fishing industry earlier this year, only for the virus lockdown to strike and leave their fledgling business hanging in the balance.

The pair say their status as a new business has hampered them as they have failed to qualify for the majority of the support packages put in place by the Scottish Government.

They believe, however, that as a new, sustainable and environmentally-friendly business, they should be top of the list for support.

Mr Cameron, from Skye, said: “In an industry which needs to be attracting new young people and where there are fewer boats year after year, the government should not be completely ignoring new entrants into the industry.”

The 28-year-old and his Spanish business partner, 37, left employment on another boat to start up in business together and say the pandemic couldn’t have hit at a worse time.

“We bought Concord, a 28-foot trawler used for keels and trawling prawns,” Mr Cameron said.

“We converted it for gathering hand-dived scallops, taking a low-value, high-impact vessel from the fleet and creating a high-value but low-impact business which contributes to the local economy.

“We put £15,000 into the business ourselves and took a loan of £25,000.

“We started planning this move in December, and it’s just terrible timing.”

The business partners hand dive for scallops in the waters around the island, but say their markets have been “devastated”.

“Before Covid-19 we were landing about 1,000kg a week.

“Now we are lucky to sell 100kg a week. People just aren’t buying as much right now.

“We are selling to the pubs and restaurants locally, but it’s not a big market.”

And while other fishing firms have received handouts from the Fisheries Board’s intervention fund, the duo haven’t been in business long enough to prove their earnings, or indeed that they run a full-time fishing boat.

“We knew we fell short of being able to prove £25,000 earnings in the past year but were told there was an appeal process,” Mr Cameron added.

“We have a business plan, a large bank loan and no other income…it would be easy to prove we are working this vessel full-time if only they wanted to look at us.

“We got the self-employed support scheme grant but that doesn’t even cover the bills on the boat. It has put our business at risk.

“We feel that we should be prime candidates for grants and aid and yet have received nothing apart from the minimum through the self employed schemes.

“I’m sure there are many other owners in the same place having purchased their boats simply at the wrong time.”

The pair claim despite numerous attempts to appeal to Marine Scotland for funding, their pleas were ignored for around three months until the fund was closed.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are always keen to encourage young fishers and support those who are struggling as a result of the pandemic and this unprecedented economic crisis.

“We would advise them to engage with our dedicated Covid-19 business support helpline on 0300 303 0660 to see what options are available regarding funding and support for those meeting eligibility criteria.”

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