A west coast fisherman has spoken out about “impossible” Home Office rules that he claims could drive him out of business.
Terry Jack – and others – say their livelihoods are at risk because they are not allowed to operate within 12 miles of the UK mainland if they take on crew from outside the European Union.
They say Border Force staff stop non-EU crew members from working on vessels if they are within this limit.
As a result, local boats have to travel further afield for their catches with no guarantee of success.
Skippers maintain there is a “major shortage” of locally skilled men and, if the ruling isn’t changed, they could be forced to sell their boats.
And Highland politicians are backing the fishermen’s concerns.
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil is calling on Brandon Lewis, the UK government’s Minister of State for Immigration, to step in and help.
While Skye, Ross and Lochaber MP, Ian Blackford, hopes “this ridiculous state of affairs can be addressed.”
Mr Jack from Gairloch is a trawler skipper who fishes for prawns and langoustines.
The 41 year-old employs 10 crew – seven Britons and three Sri Lankans.
He said: “The best prawns come from West Coast waters, but I have had to go far from home to fish because of this ruling, so it’s a loss to the local economy.
“It is almost impossible to recruit locally as there is a major shortage of skilled men.
“I don’t want my business to go to the wall. But If this continues I’ll have to sell up due to rules that are impossible to adhere to.”
Skipper Angus MacLeod from Barra said: “I am trying to get my previous engineer, a Ghanaian national, to return to work on my vessel. He is being detained at Edinburgh airport on the basis that my boat doesn’t spend enough time in international waters.
“We regularly fish there, but we have to make up the numbers required to put to sea and fish safely.
“It’s extremely difficult to access a full complement of local crew.”
In March, Mr MacNeil hit out at the Home Office for failing to reintroduce a scheme which would allow non-European Economic Area, EEA, nationals to work in the industry.
He said: “This inaction is hurting the industry as it is a struggle to crew these vessels. I know of men desperate to return to the boats they worked on.”
Mr Blackford added: “This industry is vital for us so I have taken the matter up with the Home Office.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “It remains the government’s policy not to operate migration schemes for non-EEA nationals coming to fill vacancies at lower skill levels while employers have unrestricted access to labour from elsewhere in the EU.”