EMERGENCY measures have been brought in to help protect parts of the fishing industry on the west coast of Scotland.

The Scottish Government stepped in to help save this year's west coast prawn fishery and jobs in fishing and processing in fragile communities, amid fears of overfishing.

New measures will be introduced following months of concern about the arrival in the Minches of many more larger boats than normal from the east. They have come as prawns have been scarce there this year, but the new regulations will see many larger east coast boats banned from fishing for prawns in western waters from August 1.

Crucially, the west coast prawn fishermen's days at sea are already restricted by the European cod recovery plan because they can also catch cod. However, the deal agreed yesterday with the industry will ensure west coast fishermen can catch their full prawn quota this year.

According to Marine Scotland there is sufficient quota and overall prawn fishing is at a similar level to 2011 and 2010, but the increased number of boats fishing meant the annual time at sea constraints would have been be breached if action had not been taken. So the remaining 2012 effort, or fishing time, for the west coast has been allocated to west coast vessels only.

However, boats from the east that traditionally come west and have a record of more than 60 days fishing in the west during 2011 will also be permitted.

Marine Scotland said there would be a basic allocation of 16 days a month fishing time for west coast vessels, for the rest of the year, which should allow more than 90% of vessels to carry on their normal time at sea.

Consideration will be given to a managed closure of the west coast fishery over the festive period and into early January, when minimal fishing activities take place.

Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said this latest management challenge starkly illustrated the need for an overhaul of the cod recovery plan – something the Government and industry have been demanding for some time.

Mr Lochhead said he recognised the deep concerns of fishermen and processors, so it was important action was taken to ensure west coast fishermen had their time at sea to catch their full prawn quotas this year.

He said: "I want to emphasise this issue has been caused by two factors – first, the unusual scarcity of prawns in the North Sea that has led to effort change; and secondly, this is not about quota availability but rather having the necessary days at sea to catch quota. This illustrates the management difficulties related to the EU's flawed cod recovery plan."

Marine Scotland had been instructed to closely monitor the situation.

John Hermse, chief executive of the Mallaig and North West Fishermen's Association, pointed to the European cod recovery plan rules "which takes management of cod in areas such as the west coast to farcical levels".

He said: "For example, some of my members have not landed a single cod in four years, yet they are subjected to draconian measures to control effort and gear selectivity."

The Western Isles Fishermen's Association secretary Duncan MacInnes said a risk assessment of allowing larger vessels into the Minch should have been carried by the Scottish Government.

The Aberdeen-based Scottish Fishermen's Federation also said the problem on the west coast was "directly related to the discredited cod plan".