By Heather Baillache
A LEADING authority on Shetland’s fishing industry this week said modernisation was the answer to crippling fuel rises.
Hansen Black, Chief Executive of Shetland Fishermen’s Association, was responding to the announcement of emergency measures this week by the European Commission.
The plans include cutting red tape to allow for faster application of funding from the European Fisheries Fund.
This would provide the capital required to make fishing boats more fuel efficient.
Mr Black said Shetland’s fishermen were in a “vulnerable position” and that these were difficult times for the industry.
He said: “Airlines and haulage companies can add on a surcharge, whereas we get our price on the fish markets.
“A lot of analysts are expecting the fuel prices to drop at the end of summer, but this has been said before and we cannot rely on this.”
The Shetland industry is made up of approximately 350 fishermen, representing around 10 per cent of the Scottish total.
Between them they operate 125 shellfish boats, 25 whitefish boats and eight pelagic boats.
Mr Black said the rise of diesel prices had added a “massive” amount on to the cost of fishing locally, and reducing this was the top priority.
Bertie Armstrong, chairman of the Scottish Fisherman’s Federation, said that some fishing boats were using half their gross turnover on fuel.
He said: “If that continues and we are left alone in the market, we will have an unplanned collapse in areas of the fishing industry.”
Mr Black said the SFA was trying a number of different approaches to find a solution, including restructuring the fleet.
The average age of boats in the Shetland fleet is 20 years and every boat has an individual fuel efficiency level.
“We may have one boat that is over 35 years of age that is not fuel efficient and we have boats just a few months old that are. There is no single rule that applies to all. What is clear is that we need to modernise the entire fleet.”
Mr Black said there were a number of factors to take into account when it came to modernisation, besides the size of a vessel’s engine.
He said the engine’s design, the size of the propeller and the type of gearbox were all important in reducing fuel consumption.
“We have some newer boats, such as the Prolific and the Copious, which are very fuel efficient.”
Part of the EU package involves giving decommissioning aid for the replacement of older boats with smaller, more efficient vessels.
However, Mr Black did not agree that this was the best approach for the Shetland fleet, although he
said it was something they could explore.
“The fleet went too low after last decommissioning, but it has gone back up to an acceptable level.
“At the moment the whitefish fleet is at right size for catching stocks but they might want to look at the bigger boats and other fleets in Scotland that would fit that bill.
“It is not clear there is money available to the UK fishing fleet to do this, but we will be discussing this with the government.”
This week First Minister Alex Salmond promised to lobby the UK government on behalf of Scotland’s fishermen, hauliers and farmers, who have formed a coalition against fuel costs.
Mr Black added: “From our point of view, through the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, we have been lobbying at the highest level. We have spoken to Alex Salmond.
“The Scottish Government have set up a fuel task force which needs to look at the entire fleet structure in Scotland.
“There is no money to help fishermen in Scotland and so the Scottish Government has passed this on to the UK Treasury and we will be meeting them in due course.”
David Sandison, general manager of Shetland Aquaculture, said rising transportation costs within the fish farming industry was the main burden his members faced.
“We do have a knock-on effect when it comes to buying diesel for equipment on sites, but the problem we face is down to haulage.”
He said the rising fuel costs would have to be met at the production stage, as it was difficult to pass them on to customers.
“Most of our business is run on contract with suppliers and these contracts are not re-negotiable when it comes to fuel costs.”
The emergency EU measures come as a new task force is set up to develop fuel efficiency measures.
Seafish director Paul Williams will chair the fuel efficiency expert group which will report its initial findings within the next three weeks.
Fishing minister Richard LochÂhead welcomed the group and said their advice was vital and should be introduced without delay.
“We very much appreciate the economic impact that rising fuel prices are having on the industry. The Scottish Government is seeking a fair share of the extra revenue gained from fuel prices that will allow us to provide for key sectors.”