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Fishing is irrelevant says leaked report

Keith Findlay

The Press and Journal

8th August 2003

The Government's team investigating the problems facing the UK's fishing industry believes it is an insignificant part of the national economy, it was claimed yesterday.

Reports of a leaked document on the state of the nation's fishing industry provoked outrage in the North-east where fishermen are struggling to cope with the aftermath of savage quota cuts so far this year.

Many skippers have been forced to consider tying up their boats in return for decommissioning grants, while others are hoping for transitional aid to help them through the crisis.

The Prime Minster's strategy unit, a team of policy advisers to the Government, recently visited the North-east on a fact-finding mission.

It was given the task of developing a long-term strategy for sea fishing earlier this year but is not due to make its report until December.

However, some of its findings appear to have been leaked, and the unit is said to have concluded the fish catching sector is economically unimportant.

SNP shadow fishing minister Richard Lochhead said: "This explosive revelation shows that Scotland is in dire straits in the starkest terms.

"The SNP has very big concerns about the report which states that it is only fish catching that plays an insignificant role in the national economy instead of the rest of the industry, but the fact is that without fish catching, the rest of the industry will not survive.

"In the eyes of Downing Street, the Scottish fishing industry is insignificant and worthless but to Scotland the industry is 20 times more vital than to the UK as a whole."

Ian Duncan, secretary of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said: "It is perhaps not all that surprising the strategy unit is saying the fishing industry is insignificant.

"If it was all that important to the Government, the industry would not be in the state it is in now. The fact the Government clearly does not see it as important is the reason it is in the trouble it is in.

He added: "The Government needs to make sure all industries are given adequate support, particularly those which are in trouble.

"I suspect fishing is not as prominent as other industries in a national sense, but at a local level it is very important."

Mr Duncan said he was confident the Government would recognise the importance of fishing to many Scottish communities. "Take fishing out of the equation and these communities are bound to suffer," he said.

John Hermse, chairman of the Scottish Fishing Services Association, said he would be shocked if the attitude that fishing is unimportant is allowed to prevail.

"The fishing industry is hugely significant for the North-east," he said. "We need to make sure that our fishing communities get the recognition they deserve."

Mr Hermse said he hoped the reported comments were not representative of strategy unit's final report. "My experience of the strategy unit is that it has listened to what the fishing communities have been telling it," he added.

A spokeswoman for the strategy unit said she could not comment on speculation about its findings as the report was not due out until later this year.