Scotland’s fishing industry is ‘at the mercy of a lottery of London priorities’, said Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil this week, as a proposal to support skippers to crew their boats was rejected by the UK Fisheries Minister.

Mr MacNeil and other MPs met with James Brokenshire MP at the end of last year to press the case for Scottish fishing vessels facing crew shortages to be allowed to recruit workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

The plan would allow employers in the Scottish and Northern Irish fishing industries to access, on a quota-limited basis, temporary labour from outside the EEC.

However, Mr MacNeil has now received a formal response from Mr Brokenshire which has refused to consider any such scheme to assist the industry.

Mr MacNeil said: “This is a very disappointing response from the Minister especially as we outlined the position to Mr Brokenshire in December. Skippers in Na h-Eileanan an Iar and all along the west coast, particularly in the prawn and white fish sectors, have had to tie up boats as they cannot crew them. This has knock on effects for the local economy, especially in onshore supporting industries.”

He added: “A solution to this issue was identified by my colleagues and I – the reintroduction of a scheme for sourcing temporary labour from out with the EEC, as is being introduced in the Republic of Ireland – however the UK Government have disregarded this plan.”

In a letter to Mr MacNeil, Mr Brokenshire says responsibility for labour supply issues in the fishing industry is an issue for the industry itself to resolve. He adds that ‘entrenching a dependence on non-EEA labour will not give impetus to finding more local solutions to the availability of labour and skills’.

Mr MacNeil said: “The Minister has washed his hands of this pressing issue facing many Scottish and Northern Irish skippers. The UK government are unwilling to assist, even though they are able to. Our fishing industry is at the mercy of a lottery of London priorities and we need control over this in Scotland.”