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It's 2019, the coastal fleet need to renew.

Updated: Jul 17, 2019

A personal view - Fiona Matheson

Fatalities are high in the under 15m fishing fleet and in particular in the under 10m single handed static gear category.

It’s because, instead of modernising the fleet with appropriate new builds for the 21st century, fishermen are forced to cram several pints into a fishing-boat equivelant tumbler.

When the under 10m rule came in, any new builds, or ‘rule-beaters’ were constructed to 9.99 meters, boxlike in shape with deep drafts and engines as powerful as licenses would allow. The remaining older vessels in the fleet could be as humblea as a wooden sail yole from the 1950s with a wheelhouse construction for’ard and a simple creel hauler.

Big differences in sea-worthiness, capacity, stability and overall safety.

When tonnage is part of the financial cost of a vessel, it forces fishermen to decide where that tonnage expense is spent – do they allow for a larger hold to store boxes, a vivier tank? or do they give individual cabins or a shower to the crew? Clearly if bought tonnage which relates to vessel size is the deciding factor, then probably crew comfort is not the highest priority.

With bank lending to the inshore sector stagnant since the financial crash and now with the astronomical leap in licence values, the quaysides and find a fishing boat are crammed with old timers for sale, striped of their valuable licenses. The licences have left the small boat sector for ever, sold for their tonnage value to make up part of an aggregation of tonnage to fund the new builds in the over 10m sector. If the licences have left the shellfish fleet, their entitlements have gone too – permanently.

Those in the under 15 sector are stuck, forced to try and renew and upgrade their old vessels as money allows, as to be left in the current fishing roulette of 'musical chairs’ without a license means by the time you have found a replacement boat to upgrade to, you cannot afford the price to license it.

Could it be ‘accidental’ consolidation of the fleet and ‘accidental’ decommissioning of the inshore fleet through an unforeseen licensing anomaly?

Or has the whole thing been calculated from the start? Only history will tell but ‘decommissioning’ is being talked of openly by those who see the inshore as ‘troublesome’, ‘messy’ and a snag to their concept of ‘efficiency'.

The importance of local inshore coastal fleets around the entire coast and not just aggregated in the industrial fishing hotspots is because of this:

Like it or not it is an inconvenient fact that we are a savagely divided society in terms of equalities and access to opportunities to enjoy wealth and prosperity

When sections of the population enjoy largesse of wealth and access to highly paid work and the material accoutrements of big houses and fancy cars and a huge proportion of others do not, through no fault of their own, society creates problems for itself.

Irrespective of how hard some may try, they cannot achieve the lofty pay scales of others because no jobs in their area provide those wages The average salary in Inverness is £23k which is below both the Scottish and the UK average. The average UK salary for 2019 is over £36k

The more pay people earn, the more they pay to the government exchequer in tax and national insurance. This provides public funds to pay for public services. (Income tax now goes to the Scottish government so is spent on services here.) This is important in areas like the Highlands and islands where public services for roads, hospitals, schools and transport are essential due to the particularly difficult geography of the area and often more expensive to provide than in cities. But public services also fund fisheries research,management and the funding of bodies like the Inshore Fishries Groups. In fisheries most recognise that these arms of government are grossly underfunded with financil priorities demanded elsewhere.

It is obvious that if people are in well paid work they are less stressed, have more family time and are more likely to be able to afford to make positive health choices, in turn making them less reliant on welfare benefits and the publicly funded National Health service.

Keeping people poor is expensive for all of society. That is an economic folly.

Keeping people poor creates disillusion, depression, envy, substance addiction and crime and makes the wealthy insecure that their wealth, property and the social services they rely on too like the NHS are underfunded.

Back to fishing. Fishing can provide well paid all year- round work for people in the peripheral coastal communities. Fish and shellfish are in the sea right beside those peripheral communities.

While a single large vessel can reach the dizzy annual salary heights of over £100k per year (four times more than the average for the Highlands and Islands) most inshore vessels will manage a pay of between £20k- £30k for crew- respectable enough in terms of Higlands and Islands averages.

Investing in the modernization of the inshore fleet is long overdue.

The MCA are looking to tackle the high fatalities within the fleet with new codings for under 15m vessels. This could mean increased onerous inspections, more stability tests with in-water and out- of- water inspections and potentially more prosecutions. All to be paid for by the fishermen.

This is all back to front.

Instead of forcing fishermen to make adjustments to old vessels which they cannot afford to renew because of a warped market in tonnage and licenses which is all about profit and nothing to do with safety, it is time to invest in the coastal inshore fleet as a stabilizer for the rural and national economy as a whole.

Remove the under 10m artificial length rule and replace it with a 12m size.

Enable boats to renew and build, fit for the challenging waters of the Oceanic Atlantic conditions in which they have to work from their home ports in the peripheral Atlantic communities.

Allow boats to be built fit for a modern coastal fishing industry, pulling its weight economically and paying its way socially.

Give crews showers, cabins, internet, face-book and live-streaming at sea so that their working environment is the best it can be.

Other countries can do it – it’s all about policy priorities and at the moment the priorities in the UK are about keeping the rich, rich and the have nots with nothing.

Fishing is no exception.

Photos: Norwegian Coastal fleet vessel

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