Poor prices, high fuel costs, quota reductions and restrictions on days at sea are leaving fishermen in financial difficulties, according to a major new report on the industry.
The study was commissioned by the Scottish Government in an effort to show the European Commission just how tough life was for the men who go to sea in this country.
Carried out by economists at industry authority Seafish, it looked at the current and future impacts on fleets of fuel and fish prices, quota reductions and restrictions on days at sea.
The study found that this year fuel and fish prices are the key factors affecting the profits of the nephrops (prawn/langoustine) sector. Additional restrictions proposed for 2010 are likely to have a further impact but, even without these, the sector is likely to remain financially fragile.
For the demersal (cod, haddock and whiting) sector, the report indicates that days at sea restrictions have a critical impact and additional restrictions proposed for 2010 would result in some fishing operations making a net loss.
Fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Fishing is a tough way of life at the best of times but this year the combined effect of the economic climate and the tough restrictions imposed by Europe has made life particularly difficult for our fishermen.
“We have stressed this point a number of times in our dealings with the European Commission and commissioned this study to provide robust evidence. It shows just how economically fragile our fleets are.
“We are about to enter the annual round of autumn negotiations in Europe, when crucial decisions are taken on quotas and days at sea. This study will help inform our negotiating position and, as a first step, we will be discussing it with Commission officials later this month.”
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “This report itemises in a very stark manner the huge difficulties that the Scottish whitefish and prawn fleets are facing today, and into 2010 and beyond.
“With the exception of North Sea cod, total allowable catches for almost all the main Scottish target species were cut this year; the economic situation is further compounded by rising fuel prices and, worst of all, the market has been awful. These factors, combined with further reductions in the number of days that boats are allowed to put to sea, are putting intolerable pressure on the Scottish fleet.
“Against this background, we are urgently calling upon the Scottish and UK governments to champion the cause, with us, of achieving in the negotiations which start next month maximum sustainable catching opportunity for 2010. This must include avoidance of any further cuts in days at sea or the introduction of ill-fitting regulation, otherwise large sections of the fleet will face commercial disaster.”