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Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 16:50 GMT
Fishing safety back in the spotlight
Trawlers sinking map
See box below for key to numbers
The issue of safety at sea has figured prominently in the minds of fishing industry leaders as crews go further afield in search of their catches.

Many trawlers are now equipped with high-tech radars, sonars and warning beacons linked to satellites that activate on contact with water.
Key to graphic above
1. June 98: Silvery Sea collides with freighter off Danish coast - five dead
2. Nov. 97: Margretha Marta sinks off Land's End - four dead
3. Oct. 97: Sapphire sinks off Peterhead - four dead
4. March 97: Gorah Lass sinks off Portreath - three dead
5. March 97: Westhaven sinks off Aberdeen - four dead
6. May 96: Equinox sinks off north-west Scotland - four dead
7. Dec. 94 - Heather Bloom sinks off north-west Scotland - one dead
8. Feb. 91: Pescado sinks off Cornish coast - six dead
9. Feb 74 - The Gaul sinks off Norway - 36 dead
It was one of these beacons which alerted emergency services to the tragedy of the Solway Harvester, which appears to have foundered in heavy seas.

In reality, the UK's fishing community is one large, extended family, its relatives dotted around the coastline eking out a living in frequently dangerous conditions.

The Scottish relatives of that family have shouldered more than their fair share of grief over recent decades.

Dr Ian Duncan, secretary of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, told News Online Scotland: "There's nothing worse than this sort of disaster and the uncertainties that willl surround it until more is revealed.

"The communities in the Solway Firth are very small and they are very much family boats. Everyone in Whithorn will know who the fishermen are."

'Gung-ho' image

The fishing communities of Peterhead, Fraserburgh and many others like them in places give off the reek of affluence among fishing families. That image is true of many skippers, who own large houses and drive expensive cars.

Fraserburgh Harbour
Fraserburgh: One of Scotland's main fishing towns
Undoubtedly this contributes to the "gung-ho" picture of some fishermen; those who risk all to put to sea despite search of large catches and at times keeping their positions on the water secret to avoid alerting rival boats to rich pickings.

Dr Duncan said: "There's no question that fishermen are daring in the true sense of the word. They do go out to fish as long as long as they can and always try to make it back when they feel things are too bad.

"The sea is unpredictable. Fishermen who have been at sea for 30 or 40 years can still be caught out by unusual or freak conditions."

'Under-estimation of weather'

Referring to the Solway Harvester, he suggested: "I think it was almost certainly an under-estimation of the severity of the weather that was coming. There's no remedy for that.

"Fishermen are used to fishing in bad weather conditions - they see that as part of their job.

Fishermen in bad weather
Fishermen are used to working in appalling weather
"The difficulty always lies in when those conditions change suddenly. The seas around Scotland can be treacherous and can change very quickly."

In May 1999, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food scrapped a grant scheme which paid for safety improvements on fishing vessels.

The Scottish Executive has decided to introduce its own version of the scheme, but Dr Duncan said it would examine the safety culture of the fleet rather than simply paying for specific items.

Training and new technology would also be covered by the new scheme.

Scallop fleet

The question of submarine activity may be raised in relation to the loss of the Solway Harvester.

Dr Duncan said he did not believe subs were active in the particular area of seas where the vessel was last known to be.

Cod in box
Catches have become harder to come by
The Solway Harvester was a scallop dredger, part of the fleet which has seen hard times over recent months because of the ban on catching the shellfish along much of the western seaboard.

Scallop fishing was stopped last July because of Amnesiac Shellfish Poisoning (ASP), a naturally occuring toxin.

The Scottish Fishermen's Federation complained about the absence of compensation for the west coast scallop fleet, warning that 200 livlihoods were on the line.

"It couldn't come at a worse time for the scallop industry," added Dr Duncan. "It's already in crisis and the knock-on effects of this disaster will be very strong."

See also:

13 Jan 00 | Scotland
12 Jan 00 | Scotland
12 Jan 00 | Scotland
12 Jan 00 | Scotland
12 Jan 00 | Scotland
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