The cost of marine fuel in Shetland is now nearly three times the price it was last year, and young fishing crews in the isles have spoken about the urgent need for government assistance.

Twenty-five-year-old Robbie Jamieson is skipper of whitefish vessel Defiant LK 371, having taken over the boat last year with the rest of his shareholder crew, all of whom are under 30. With an average crew age of around 38 in the islands, over a dozen young Shetland fishermen have become vessel owners or shareholders in the past six months.

He said: “The cost of fuel has become crippling. The current situation with cod quotas adds to the problem, as we have to try and avoid the abundance of cod in our waters – meaning we use even more fuel per trip. It isn’t financially sustainable, and we’ll struggle to keep going like this.”

Twenty-four-year-old Ben Irvine (pictured above) is skipper of Comrades LK 308, which is a fuel-efficient seine-netter, but said: “Even for us, the cost of fuel has become a real problem.

“As a young crew, we have debts to pay off from purchasing the vessel last year. If our fuel bills stay so high, that becomes harder and harder to do – and the boat becomes less and less financially viable.”

Shetland crews are also pointing to the injustice of struggling with rising fuel costs when they are fishing alongside visiting vessels from France or Spain, whose national governments have subsidised marine fuel.

EU funding has been redirected to assist fishing businesses and ensure food security, with financial aid to cover any lost income or additional expenses resulting from the war in Ukraine.

The Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) is calling on the UK and Scottish governments to step in and help the industry to weather the crisis. Ministers need to make good on their promises and priorities around food security, said SFA executive officer Daniel Lawson.

He said: “While Shetland boats face tying up, the waters around here are fished freely by vessels from other countries – where fishing is clearly valued and governments have agreed to help their fleets bear the escalating costs.

“Rising fuel and energy bills are affecting every household and industry across the country, but fishing vessels in Shetland have seen the cost of marine diesel almost treble this year – and quadruple since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our young crews have invested in the future of this industry, so essential to our island economy. They have kept going throughout the most miserable of modern times: coronavirus lockdowns and local outbreaks, disruption from a poorly managed Brexit, and badly mismatched quotas.

“They have confidence for the future, but they need government to show that same confidence in them and give them the assistance they need to get through this current crisis – and keep providing nutritious, carbon-smart seafood for the nation.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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