Ministers launch action plan to aid Scottish fishermen
The Scottish government has launched a £6m action plan to help Scotland's struggling prawn and whitefish fleets.
The move follows a dramatic fall in the availability of prawns, combined with longer-term difficulties such as high fuel prices and volatile international markets.
The action plan includes a £3m hardship fund for fishermen facing "exceptional stresses on their viability".
The Scottish Fishermen's Federation welcomed the steps.
Ministers said they had taken action because of the "exceptionally tough circumstances" faced by Scottish fishermen in 2013.
The prawn fishery has been mostly acutely affected, with catches in the North Sea down by more than a half on last year.
Prolonged cold weather earlier in the year is thought to have contributed to the fall.
The lower prawn catches have meant prawn fishermen have had to diversify into other fisheries, placing pressure on whitefish quotas and markets.
Ministers said they wanted to help with "immediate pressures" and support the transition towards discard-free fisheries under the reformed EU Common Fisheries Policy.
Under the action plan, vessels will be invited to trial a discard-free prawn fishery by fishing with gears that eliminate whitefish by-catch.
These vessels will be given additional time at sea to catch their quotas "where necessary".
The action plan will also offer alternative support for vessels not joining the discard-free trial, with help to develop new fishing gears and measures to achieve discard reduction targets.
Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said the fishing industry was very important to Scotland's economy, contributing £500m last year.
"Issues such as volatile international markets and environmental factors such as a scarcity of prawns appearing on the grounds have meant many fishermen have been experiencing exceptionally tough times," he said.
"And all this at time when regulatory changes such as the transition to discard-free fisheries are just around the corner.
"The Scottish government wants to support our fishing industry and their communities as they seek to overcome short-term challenges."
Mr Lochhead added: "We also want to help fishermen adapt to a future where they will no longer discard any of their catch. "
Welcoming the action plan, Scottish Fishermen's Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said there were some "very severe and specific challenges" facing the Scottish prawn and whitefish fleets.
He added: "Frustratingly, some of the critical problems such as fuel price and external regulation are outside government and industry direct control.
"However, there is much that can be done and we look forward to developing with government the offered actions as soon as possible."
WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said the short-term aid should help fishermen during the transition to ending discards.
He added: "No-one knows how long current difficulties will last, therefore Scottish ministers must waste no time in devising a longer term strategy that implements the reforms and makes fleets more resilient and adaptable to changing fishing opportunities."