The Scottish Mail on Sunday

SOS Proud fish­ing fleet sunk by bor­ders bu­reau­crats

How over-zeal­ous crack­down on for­eign work­ers robs skip­pers of skilled crew­men in cri­sis that threat­ens to dec­i­mate in­dus­try... and send price of your fish sup­per soar­ing

- By Lor­raine Kelly Fishing · Outdoor Hobbies · Hobbies · SOS (Saving Our Selves) The BET Relief Telethon · Scotland · Stornoway · Lochinver · Troon · City of Westminster · European Economic Area · Outer Hebrides · Angus MacNeil · Angus · United Kingdom · Government of the United Kingdom · Home Office · Campbeltown · Jonathan Boyd · Donald Maclean · Robert Goodwill

IT’s high tide on a fine, clear day: by rights, the trawler­men of Barra should be head­ing out to sea in search of the cod, had­dock, hake and sole that have al­ways been their liveli­hood.

In­stead, the skip­pers of the New Dawn, the Our Pride and the Aquar­ius stand on the quay­side as their boats bob idly in the har­bour – vic­tims of a new cri­sis that is threat­en­ing to crip­ple Scot­land’s fish­ing in­dus­try.

The three fish­er­men say a crack­down on for­eign work­ers means they can no longer find enough staff to op­er­ate safely at sea.

While this is dev­as­tat­ing for them and their fam­i­lies, it is also a ham­mer-blow for the frag­ile econ­omy of their is­land where fish­ing and pro­cess­ing re­main a ma­jor em­ployer.

And it is not only Barra that is af­fected – up and down the west coast, in Stornoway, Lochin­ver, Camp­bel­town and Troon, fish­er­men are be­ing forced to aban­don their trade.

Now the trawler­men are warn­ing that un­less the Gov­ern­ment takes ur­gent ac­tion to change the rules, one of Scot­land’s tra­di­tional in­dus­tries will be lost for­ever.

The blame, they say, lies squarely with the West­min­ster Visas and Im­mi­gra­tion de­part­ment, which has re­cently en­forced a ban on crew­men from out­side the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area (EEA) work­ing on Scot­tish boats – even though the in­dus­try re­lies heav­ily on Filipino, Ghana­ian and Sri Lankan crew mem­bers to go to sea.

Now in an ur­gent at­tempt to save the threat­ened in­dus­try, fish­er­men are call­ing for cri­sis talks with Robert Good­will, Min­is­ter of State for Im­mi­gra­tion, to change the com­plex law and al­low them to hire back their for­eign crew.

Mean­while, West­ern Isles MP An­gus MacNeil has called upon the UK Gov­ern­ment to in­ter­vene and as­sist the fish­ing in­dus­try as it strug­gles to stay afloat.

The Scot­tish Mail on Sun­day vis­ited the is­land of Barra in the Outer He­brides, where half of the fish­ing fleet is now tied up.

There, a group of fish­er­men spoke can­didly about the prob­lems they are fac­ing and their fears for the threat­ened in­dus­try.

Tend­ing to his ves­sel and oc­ca­sion­ally look­ing out to sea – know­ing it is where he should be – An­gus Macleod, the skip­per of the trawler Aquar­ius, said: ‘I have been tied up for the last month now. It is the long­est pe­riod that I have ever been un­able to go to sea, and I have been a fish­er­men for over 30 years.

‘It’s be­cause I can’t get my Filipino crew back – the Gov­ern­ment won’t let them re­turn. And there are no re­place­ments now. There are not a lot of Scot­tish fish­er­men avail­able, as we have a gen­er­a­tion where lo­cal peo­ple haven’t been com­ing into the in­dus­try.’

Mr Macleod, 47, said he has been strug­gling for the last two years be­cause of a tight­en­ing on im­mi­gra­tion laws. But he stated that the sud­den crack­down on for­eign work­ers has fi­nally forced him out of the wa­ter.

The fa­ther-of-two said: ‘Things have be­come stricter with the im­mi­gra­tion rules over the last cou­ple of years, and I have strug­gled for staff ever since.

‘I have even had to have my 16year-old son work­ing the deck with me, just to keep our fam­ily busi­ness go­ing.

‘Phys­i­cally he was fit to do this, but men­tally it is such a chal­leng­ing job, es­pe­cially when the fa­tigue kicks in. There have been times where there are only three of us out there when there should be five.

‘But now it has fi­nally come to this – we can’t go out to sea at all. It is the worst it has ever been. It is aw­ful.’

The coun­try’s staffing short­age is caused by a UK Bor­der Force crack­down on an Im­mi­gra­tion Law, which pre­vents non-EEA work­ers fish­ing

‘I’ve been tied up for the last month now’

within the coun­try’s ter­ri­to­rial waters.

As boats some­times need to come within this ra­dius – for ex­am­ple to land catch and shel­ter from storms – the for­eign sea­far­ers are now un­able to work on them. But with­out Filipino, Sri Lankan and Ghana­ian work­ers, there is now a crip­pling staff short­age.

The law has been in place since 1971, but im­ple­men­ta­tion has sud­denly be­come stricter – and in the past cou­ple of months many fish­er­men across the coun­try have been forced to tie up their boats. Alexan­der MacNeil, 42, the skip­per of the ves­sel Our Pride, has now had his boat tied up in Barra for a week.

He said: ‘I have been fish­ing now for six years, and this is the most I have ever strug­gled to get crew. I have two crew­men right now, but I need at least one more if I am to go

‘It’s be­cause I can’t get my Filipino crew back’

out to sea safely. But the is­sue isn’t just get­ting crew – we need skilled crew, ex­pe­ri­enced crew. Fish­ing is al­ready a very dan­ger­ous job, and things be­come very dan­ger­ous if your crew aren’t skilled or trained prop­erly.

‘The Filipinos and Ghana­ians are dif­fer­ent, though, as they are sea­far­ing na­tions and are highly skilled in the trade – they know how to mend nets, do splic­ing, and take a watch, ev­ery­thing. That’s why we need them.’

Some fish­er­men re­main hope­ful that the UK gov­ern­ment will of­fer tran­sit visas to al­low non-EEA work­ers to work in Scot­land. But Jonathan Boyd, skip­per of the New Dawn which fea­tured in the BBC se­ries Trawler­men, has lost hope, and has de­cided to put his boat up for sale. Fa­ther-of-three Mr Boyd, 45, said: ‘I only bought it in April this year. I have been tied up for three weeks now, and it is just too un­cer­tain not to give my­self op­tions.

‘My crew went home for their an­nual leave a few weeks ago, and it has been im­pos­si­ble to find re­lief crew. I don’t know when I will get out again, as my crew­men may not be re­turn­ing. So I have put the boat up for sale. I have a fam­ily to think of and a mort­gage to pay.

‘We just need a sup­ply of skilled staff. If there were skilled Scot­tish or Euro­pean work­ers avail­able, of course we would take them on. But there are not.’

Fish-pro­cess­ing fac­to­ries – and in turn lo­cal em­ploy­ment – are also at risk. Bar­rat­lantic Seafood, a pro­cess­ing com­pany in Barra, has lost thou­sands of pounds be­cause of the staffing cri­sis.

And Don­ald Ma­clean, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the firm, ad­mit­ted that the com­pany could close if the is­sue is not re­solved soon. He said: ‘It is get­ting very dif­fi­cult for me to com­mit to my cus­tomers as I don’t know what catch will be landed. Our prod­uct is first class, but if we can’t guar­an­tee a sup­ply, we are done.

‘I have 40 work­ers here to­day and there is no work to do. We are los­ing pro­duc­tion, and we still have to pay our staff. If the boats re­main tied up, this fac­tory will close down and Barra will be­come a de­serted is­land.

‘We are the big­gest pri­vate em­ployer on the is­land. It is a ma­jor part of the econ­omy here. Fifty per­cent of the fish landed here goes onto Scot­tish plates. If we don’t have our boats back at sea soon, and other pro­cess­ing com­pa­nies don’t ei­ther, there will be less sup­ply and fish prices could rise across Scot­land.’

De­spite the ur­gency of the is­sue, Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Mr Good­will has not yet re­spond­edy. Last night, a Home Of­fice spoke­man said: ‘It is right that em­ploy­ers look first to the res­i­dent work­force be­fore re­cruit­ing from over­seas. All in­dus­tries op­er­at­ing in the coun­try must ad­here to UK im­mi­gra­tion laws.’

‘Fish­ing is al­ready a dan­ger­ous job and more dan­ger­ous if crews are not skilled’ ‘I have 40 work­ers and there’s no work to do’ ‘I’ve put my boat up for sale, I’ve a fam­ily to think of’ ‘The long­est time I have not been able to go to sea’

 ??  ?? CRACK­DOWN: Bor­der checks
CRACK­DOWN: Bor­der checks
 ??  ?? CRUEL SEA: And deadly risks
CRUEL SEA: And deadly risks
 ??  ?? FRUS­TRA­TION: Alexan­der McNeill can­not take Our Pride out to sea with no crew
FRUS­TRA­TION: Alexan­der McNeill can­not take Our Pride out to sea with no crew
 ??  ?? BIG DE­CI­SION: New Dawn or a swan song for skip­per Jonathan Boyd?
BIG DE­CI­SION: New Dawn or a swan song for skip­per Jonathan Boyd?
 ??  ?? TIED UP: An­gus McLeod, skip­per of the Aquar­ius, is mak­ing no money
TIED UP: An­gus McLeod, skip­per of the Aquar­ius, is mak­ing no money

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