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Willie Hay

Former President of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation

Former President of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation

Born: October 7, 1929; Died: December 18, 2013

Willie Hay, who has died aged 84, was a former President of the Scottish Fisherman's Federation who helped steer the industry through a particularly challenging period in its history. Under his stewardship fishing became for the first time a central issue on the national political agenda.

As a fisherman and boat owner he was acutely aware of the problems facing the industry in the run-up to the UK's entry into the Common Market in 1973 and the subsequent introduction of the controversial Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Indeed, his involvement in fishing politics came to the fore when, as head of the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association, he was appointed chairman of the "blockade committee" which co-ordinated a series of highly effective blockades around Scottish ports demanding a unilateral 100-mile fishing limit for the UK.

The move was eventually declared illegal and the fishermen's efforts ultimately failed to achieve their aim. However, it served to bring fishing to the very top of the political agenda.

From that point forward, the fishermen were at the centre of the negotiations which resulted in the establishment of a CFP in January, 1983. By then Mr Hay was President of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, a position he would hold for the next 10 years.

Willie Hay was born in Sandend, a small community near the Moray Firth fishing village of Portsoy, Aberdeenshire. The son of a fishermen, he was the oldest of a family of four children. He was educated at Sandend's small primary school and then Portsoy Junior Secondary.

His earliest memories were of his father going to sea, leaving his mother at home to look after the children and "continually mend the herring nets."

From his earliest days he had a passion for the sea and spent much of his childhood fishing around the rocks near his home and gathering crabs for bait.

He was 10 years of age when the Second World War broke out and his father was called up. The war was still raging when, at the age of 14, he left school and went to sea himself, working as a deck hand on a fishing boat which ferried sailors, troops and supplies to warships on the Firth of Clyde.

In 1947, still working as a deck hand, he was called up for National Service and joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at Fort George.

Mr Hay was in his mid-20s when he became a partner in the ownership of a fishing vessel, the Golden Eagle, which fished out of Buckie and Aberdeen. Several years later he replaced it with the fishing boat Lode Star and in 1967 he became sole owner of the Illustrious, a vessel he had specially built.

His passion for the sea was equalled by his passion for the fishing industry and the hardy men who worked within it. Thus, when matters came to a head in 1975, he was at the forefront of efforts to blockade ports around the country amid fears that the fishing industry would be unfairly treated by the effects of a Common Fisheries Policy.

In 1978 Mr Hay became vice President of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, working closely with and learning a great deal from the then President Gilbert Buchan. When Mr Buchan stepped down in 1982, Willie Hay became President, a position he was to hold for the next 11 years.

It was a turbulent period for the industry in general and the federation in particular and Mr Hay was heavily involved as the details on future fishing quotas were thrashed out. He was as comfortable chairing a high powered meeting or negotiating with a Prime Minister as he was steering at the helm of a boat in the North Sea.

His easy-going personality masked an astute and very sharp mind. One senior civil servant remarked that with Willie Hay you got neither waffle nor window dressing - you just got it straight.

In the early period of his presidency he continued to operate his fishing boat, fitting in his work at sea with his meetings on dry land. Eventually, however, it became too much and he sold his beloved vessel in 1983.

He had been awarded an MBE in 1980 and in 1986 he was made a CBE for his services to the fishing industry. As President of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, he spent 10 years on the board of the Seafish Industry Authority (1983 till 1993) and he was also the first fisherman ever appointed a commissioner of the Northern Lighthouse Commission, a post he held from 1989 till 1999.

When he stood down as President of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation in 1993 he was made an Honorary President.

His wife Sheila, who he had married in 1958, died in 2010. Mr Hay, who had suffered from heart problems for some time, died suddenly at home.

He is survived by his son James, daughter Yvonne and four grandchildren.

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