A fisheries chief has outlined how a bespoke visa system is needed for the fishing industry following Brexit.
Scottish White Fish Producers Association chief executive Mike Park told Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee that he hoped to see a full local workforce in the medium to long term.
But Mr Park called for a competitive visa system in the immediate aftermath of Brexit to help the industry maintain staff levels.
He said: “There has to be a recognition now, that in terms of the fishing industry there is not suitable amounts of experienced fishermen in the European Economic Area.
“We need something that satisfies our demands, and they’re not big demands.
“We’re not a big sector, so you would think it wouldn’t be too difficult to create something bespoke.”
But Mr Park also said he had seen a recent major success for the first time in recruiting staff locally, with 31 of 32 youngsters on a new entrants scheme wanting to stay on in they industry.
“That’s the first significant retention we have ever had,” he said. “In years prior to that we have seen one or two from a group of 25 because obviously they didn’t see the prospects as being good enough.
“Our aspirations are that in the medium to long term we can fill the north fishing industry with homegrown crew.
“We hope over the next two to three years to see that gradual increase… from coastal communities.”
Young people were being attracted by a fleet of about 40 new vessels had been built with modern amenities, Mr Park added.
He said: “Now what we have is an industry that’s on a par with the oil and gas sector and in some cases above the oil sector in terms of reward.
“We have had new vessels build with silly things aboard like internet and Sky and that is almost a determining factor in whether a young person takes a job now.”
Speaking after the committee, Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid welcomed Mr Park’s “very persuasive” comments.
“The security of fish processing is vital to the north-east,” he said. “This is much more likely to be impacted by leaving the EU.
“It was also interesting to hear how successful the retention has been among local employees, which is a situation I’d like to see continued.
“It wasn’t long ago that a minority of staff made it through the selection process.
“It is encouraging that more local people are coming into the industry but it would take many years for the region to become fully reliant on local crewmen.”