Four fishing boats in Stornoway and three based in Barra are tied up in port and not working because they cannot get crews – and existing UK Government immigration restrictions means workers cannot be brought in from abroad as they used to be.

The official answer to this question is that local people should be trained to fill the vacancies – but no one has explained how this can be achieved if no one puts themselves forward for the work.

More than 60 additional skilled crew are needed to allow the Western Isles trawl fleet to work to full capacity, Isles MP Angus MacNeil has been told by local fishermen, as he continues to push for action from the UK Government to assist the industry with crew shortages.

Mr MacNeil’s call for UK Government action has been backed by the Fishing News, the voice of the industry, who have covered the issue extensively with the matter featuring prominently again this week as the case of the three Barra boats currently tied up due to lack of crew was highlighted.

Mr MacNeil said: “This is an extremely serious situation and the UK Government’s current position on temporary work Visas for non-EU fishermen is hindering a solution.

“In an area with population decline, it is increasingly difficult to recruit locally.

“Previously many boats used seamen from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) which worked well for everyone and boosted the local economy.  Indeed many of those previously employed are still in touch with their previous skippers to ask when they can come back.

“The position of the UK Government seems even stranger given that temporary sheep shearers from outside the EEA are permitted to come into the UK during the Spring.

“I am expecting an imminent response from the Immigration Minister on this matter.”
Duncan Macinnes, Secretary of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association said this ongoing issue was having a major impact on the prawn trawl fishery on the west coast of Scotland and pointed out that there were seven boats tied up across the Western Isles due to crew shortages.

He said: “The local economy is suffering badly from not being able to have skilled crew, with three vessels tied up for three weeks, accounting for at least £100,000 being lost and subsequent loss to the Treasury on various taxes, oil consumption and others in the local community that provide services and supplies to those vessels, without taking consideration the added value that processing those catches would provide.

“Three boats are tied up in Barra and a further four have been tied up in Stornoway as it impossible to recruit local labour.”
Dave Linkie, Editor of Fishing News said this matter was causing difficulties for fishermen throughout the UK and backed Mr MacNeil’s call for urgent action from the UK Government.

He said: “That skippers from all parts of the UK are experiencing major administration difficulties in sourcing experienced and skilled international fishermen, who have already proved more than able and willing, continues to be of major concern throughout the fishing industry.

“Less than three months ago I was privileged to attended the opening of the new secure harbour at Ardveenish, which even before its completion, provided local skippers and processors with the confidence needed to invest in newer boats that have the potential to make valuable long-term contributions to the community of Barra.

“It is extremely disappointing that now some of these boats are now forced to remain in the new harbour due to a shortage of crews.

“At a time when skipper/owners from the Western Isles to Devon and Cornwall, and from north-east Scotland to Northern Ireland, frequently highlight difficulties in relation to being able to engage skilled fishermen they identify as being ideal for the job, Fishing News will continue to highlight the urgent need to provide the practical and sensible solutions needed to resolve this vitally important issue on both a short and long-term basis.”