Western Isles fishermen have today (Wednesday 25 March) given a cautious welcome to the Scottish Government’s support funding during the Coronavirus crisis, announced this morning by fisheries secretary Fergus Ewing MSP.

An initial package of more than £5 million will be offered to seafood fishing companies, many of whom have lost their livelihoods with the collapse of export and hospitality markets for Scottish delicacies like langoustine, prawns and crab.

An initial payment of 50% of two months’ average earnings will be made to owners of all full time Scottish registered fishing vessels of 12 metres length and under – the vast majority of which are in the creel and dive sectors, operating in remote and island communities.

But a spokesman for the Western Isles fishing industry said this support would help less than a third of the Western Isles fleet, with over 1,000 jobs through the islands dependent on economic activity generated by the wider industry.

Duncan MacInnes of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association said: “We have been in consultation with Marine Scotland over the past 10 days looking for some aid for the fishing industry and, although we welcome today’s announcement for the smaller vessels in the fleet, no more than 30% of them will be helped.

“Many vessels don’t qualify for this help and all sectors of the fishing industry need assistance in this unprecedented time.

“The markets for live produce on the continent have closed and markets for processed fresh and frozen fish are closing by the day. Most of our vessels will be tied up within days – indeed only a few are still going out.

“The local market is much too limited for the size of the fleet, with over 1,000 people employed in this industry, all of whom are suffering at the moment. Outside the public sector this is the largest sector in the Western Isles economy.

“Overall there has to be a fair and balanced approach to all vessels. Some have loans and fixed costs which have to be addressed, even if they are tied up.”

Mr MacInnes said there would be continuing discussions over the next days and weeks to find ways to help other parts of the industry.

The fisheries minister earlier said that support is also being developed for the onshore processing industry – one of the largest employers in Scotland’s coastal communities – and others in the shellfish growing sector which is being affected by the loss of trade and markets.

Mr Ewing said: “The economic impact of COVID-19 is global, and is reaching into the heart of our fragile coastal communities. I have spent the last week listening to and liaising with our fishing industry, and there are many who have lost their livelihoods with little prospect of an early recovery. The need for action is immediate.

“I am therefore announcing an initial package of support, and Scottish Government officials are working as hard as possible to get this money out of the door as fast as we can.

“We recognise that more needs to be done, particularly to try and create some alternative markets – at least in the short-term. I will be discussing with retailers how that might be achieved, and I would also encourage the public to play their part by buying Scottish seafood if they can.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: “An initial payment of 50% of two months’ average earnings will be made to owners of all full time Scottish registered fishing vessels of 12 metres length and under, many of whom operate in our island communities. I welcome this vital support and am also pleased that support is due to be developed for the onshore processing industry which is also widely affected due to the loss of trade and markets.

“I am pleased that there are plans to do more on this matter and particularly to try and create alternative markets.

“We can all assist with this by buying Scottish seafood and indeed buying locally for many essential things.

“Local businesses are already hugely supporting our communities by changing the way they operate and also offering delivery services.

“Working together we can get through this challenging period and I would urge everyone to buy locally when you can.”

Pictures: The Gratitude K is one of very few vessels under 12 metres fishing from the Western Isles (Gordon Macrae/Marine Traffic). Creel fishermen on smaller vessels will be helped with 50% grants.