SCOTLAND's lucrative west coast fishing fleet is on the brink of collapse due to a "crazy" immigration law which effectively prohibits non-European nationals from fishing on local boats, it has been warned.

The Clyde Fishermen's Association has revealed that 20 of 65 members' boats have gone under in the last year and a half because they cannot recruit internationally.

The situation is set to get worse with further bankruptcies, which threatens the £80million a year industry.

Meanwhile, because of the vagaries of the immigration laws, their east coast colleagues can freely employ crew from outside the European Economic Area.

Now the CFA is warning there is an expectation that another six boats may go out of business in Campbeltown very shortly – which would cut membership by almost half.

The CFA say the issues extend to the entire west coast, with boats also tied up on Barra because they cannot get crew to man them.

Elaine Whyte, association secretary, who has met with the migration minister Ben Macpherson to raise concerns, said: "I am seeing the fleet crumble in front of my eyes and I cannot do anything about it. There needs to be regional solutions. It's crazy as it is."

She says the issues have arisen as a result of an enforced rule that means that international workers cannot work within UK territorial waters which is 12 nautical miles of the mainland.

They are subject to the rules of the UK's points-based system for immigration which was phased in between 2008 and 2010.

The UK Government previously operated a concession that allowed some visas to be issued to non-EEA fishermen to work on the inshore fleet but that ended seven years ago.

Concerns are further exacerbated because of Brexit, as crew members from the EU and the wider EEA will be subjected to the same rule.

The CFA say that unlike the east coast, most of the waters off the west coast of Scotland are "enclosed" within the 12-mile limit and the richest pickings for fisherman is within that zone.

West coast fishermen are primarily focused on shellfish – mainly langoustine, scallops, lobster and crab.

The langoustine catch is one of the most important for the Scottish fishing industry and contributes around £80 million to the economy each year. It is estimate one third of total world landings are made here.

The Tier 2 (General) visa is the main visa category for bringing non-EU/EEA workers to the UK, and is restricted to skilled workers.

The concern is that despite the demands of the difficult and often dangerous work, fishing vessel crew members are not deemed to be sufficiently skilled to fall under the ambit of Tier 2.

Tier 2 visas are restricted to jobs paying a minimum salary of £30,000 a year, which is more than the average salary of many Scottish fishermen.

The Herald:

As a result, immigration rules only permit non-EU/EEA crew to be engaged on fishing vessels operating outside the 12 nautical mile limit.

There are further concerns that the same rules will apply to EU and EEA countries post-Brexit. There are also worries that migrant workers are being put off from taking up positions in the UK because of the nation's impending exit from the EU.

It is estimated that nearly one in five of the 8000 crew on the Scottish fishing fleet are non-EEA workers, with a further 400 from within the EEA. Most use a transit visa to enter the UK, which allows them to work on vessels fishing more than 12 nautical miles off the UK coastline.

Ms Whyte said the issues with the immigration rule are made worse because there are fewer young Scots who are interested in fishing.

"The immigration policy is every detrimental to the west coast," she said. "We are very reliant on EU and international crew, and the rule effectively stops boats in the west accessing workers those in the easy can can. We were up at 65 boats and we have lost 20 in the last year and a half.

"It is an issue that could be sorted out with a stroke of a pen.

"If you are in Peterhead you get outside the 12-nautical-mile limit because there are no islands and rocks. It is different here. We have an outcrop of rocks and island and boats don't go beyond 12 nautical miles.

"That's why you will see a very vibrant fishing industry in the north east and east but it is not so good on the west coast.

"They are in a massive disadvantage because of access to crew. They go out of business because they can't get the crew."

He said EU workers are also leaving because of Brexit.

"One gentleman had been here for 12 years and because he was told we don't know what is going to happen with immigration and he would be better leaving, he went for a job with half the wage in Holland.

"This is going to be a continuing problem for the west coast of Scotland and we are really are at a tipping point.

The Herald:

"Fishing can provide a sustainable form of employment for many families – it is a good way of living with untapped potential, yet we can't do much about what is happening right now."

Darren Stevenson, partner with the Scottish law firm McGill and Co that specialises in UK immigration law, says Boris Johnson's immigration reform white paper might provide a route to remove the Tier 2 restrictions.

It proposed to reduce the minimum skill level required which could cover fishing vessel crew.

But Mr Stevenson said a concession in the rules to allow non-EEA fishermen to be employed would be a far quicker route, and it was not clear whether the Prime Minister will follow through with the white paper proposals.

“There a number of potential solutions to the issue, based on proposals to reform our immigration system in the Government white paper published last year," he said.

"The first is liberalisation of the existing rules so as to lower the skill threshold required and include skilled fishing vessel crew. Another is to rely on a proposed new route for lower skilled workers.

"Alternatively a concession could be granted outside of the rules, something which had existed previously, and still exists for vessels engaged with wind farms within territorial waters.

"However it is not clear whether Boris Johnson’s Government intends to carry forward the white paper proposals in their current form. It is also important to note that the Scottish Government wants to have control over migration policy for Scotland, which could provide greater flexibility.”

A government spokesman said: “Where a vessel operates wholly or mainly within the 12-mile limit of UK territorial waters, a non-European Economic Area (EEA) seaman working aboard requires permission to do so.

“After Brexit, the Government will introduce a new, fairer immigration system that prioritises skills and what people can contribute to the UK, rather than where they come from – and one that works for the whole of the UK.”


Kenny MacNab's family has fished for generations in the waters off the west coast of Scotland.

But the 64-year-old, who runs his prawn trawler Frigate Bird from the village of Tarbert in Argyll and Bute, has a dark view of the way immigration laws are devastating the industry he has spent his life in. He mourns the loss of fishing boats when there is still a good living to be made on the trawlers.

The Herald:

"Guys I know sold perfectly good businesses, good boats, packed it in and went away looking for jobs on fish farms," he said.

He said the irony is that prawn stocks are good, and that this year, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea recommended a 24% increase in the quota for the whole west coast.

"There is still a good living to be made from fishing. The stock is there to be caught. But they just couldn't get men.

"It's sad when that happens. When there's a good living to be made and you just see the fleet dwindling and dwindling, just simply due to no crew, it's so sad.

"I am fortunate in that I can find local crew, as we are a family business and been here so long.

"I still go out occasionally when I am stuck for a man. We aren't at the moment but we know we could be at any time. We have a couple of young guys, and if one of them packed it in I would probably need to get back out."

He said a concession in the immigration laws should be reinstated to allow the west coast fleet to employ non-European Economic Area fishermen.

"They have the advantage on the east coast, because all their prawn grounds is outside 12 miles [so can employ non-EEA crew]. On the west it is inside 12 miles.

"They had to get crew to survive on the east coast. They can get crew legally. We just cannot do it on the west coast.

"It is coming to a head now, because we are depending on local crew."

He said the continuing confusion and indecision over Brexit is also not helping the situation.

"Everybody is at this stage where we wish something would happen and get all this uncertainty out the way," he said.

And he pointed out that the loss of boats has a huge effect on rural Scottish villages such as Tarbert.

"You are talking about a population in Tarbert of 1400 people, and we have lost a good few boats in the last couple of years. If you lose even half-a-dozen jobs in a place like this, it is a big hit to the village.

"People talk about losing hundreds of jobs in bigger areas, like the Glasgow area, but if you look at the percentages, losing 20 jobs here is like losing two or three thousand in Glasgow."

The Herald: