Frustrated fishing skippers are demanding urgent action on gill net and longline fishing by overseas vessels which they claim are acting aggressively and littering the waters with plastic pollution.
Scores of Shetland boats are said to have hauled up fine mesh twine in their own nets – one vessel requiring costly repairs after its propeller was fouled by longlines.
Skippers say many gill netters leave their nets in position when they steam south to Ullapool to land, denying access to local boats.
Alison Kay skipper James Anderson has been working on grounds 30-50 miles west of Shetland. He said: “We’ve been fishing here for the last 10 years, but this year there was a line of three boats with enough nets to cover the whole area.
“All in all there were 10 German-flagged Spanish boats with no track record of fishing here taking up I reckon 200 square miles.
“In years gone by they may have been here, but there were fewer of them and they were much further out, much deeper. They’re aggressive too, telling us: ‘This is the area we fish, keep clear for 90 days.’
He called on more to be done to regulate the industry.
Defiant skipper Gordon Irvine said the number of gill netters and longliners in local waters had doubled in the past two years. The 26.6 metre vessel had to make for Baltasound and employ divers to remove longlines last year after its propeller was fouled.
“We were steaming and one of them came in far too close. We weren’t sure if he shot his lines across us or how it got into the propeller, but we spoke to him and shot clear of his gear.
“When the boys went to bed they could feel the vibration in the cabin, so we heaved and went into Baltasound to get the divers.”
Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins said the situation has “intensified” and said the vessels were polluting the seas with plastic debris.
“Equally, many of them have behaved in a needlessly aggressive manner.
“We urge the Scottish government to regulate these vessels’ access to our waters as soon as it can do so once we leave the Common Fisheries Policy, as part of the normal cycle of negotiations between coastal States. In the meantime, we need the authorities to use the powers they do have to limit the damage.”