SCOTLAND’S premium shellfish sector has “collapsed” and fishing crews face potential ruin as restaurant closures demolish demand, industry leaders say.

Demand for Scottish crab, langoustine, and similar shellfish is driven by the restaurant and hotel sector, as well as overseas buyers.

But social distancing rules related to the coronavirus pandemic have driven a raft of closures across the hospitality industry.

Now crews – including many small boats and family businesses – are facing an “unprecedented” challenge to their future, with other forms of fishing also affected.

On the west coast some boats have been tied up for a week already and overseas crewmen – mostly from Eastern Europe – have left Scotland after operations dwindled.

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Kevin McDonell, of the West of Scotland Fish Producers Organisation, told The National: “The market has just collapsed. It’s gone, there’s just no demand for it. It’s a lot of small businesses. Their boats have been tied-up already for a week.

The National:

“We don’t even know if we’ve reached the worst of it.

“We are looking for support as soon as possible.”

Official returns show more than 445,000 tonnes of sea fish and shellfish were caught in 2018, worth more than £573 million.

The coastal industry provides vital employment in communities where job creation in other sectors is scarce.

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McDonell, who is based in Mallaig, says the crisis is hitting especially hard after a series of winter storms kept boats from going out and reduced incomes.

Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge all hit within a single four-week period.

McDonell said: “We are just coming out of one of the worst winters in 15 years. A lot of the boats have only spent a handful of days at sea since January. We have better weather now and this is when they’d be able to make up some of the lost earnings. The Easter markets are the second biggest in the year after Christmas – sales increase, prices go up – but they’re not going to have that.

“It’s potentially catastrophic. It’s hard to believe we are in this situation.”

The National:

Writer and broadcaster Guy Grieve (above) set up his Ethical Shellfish Company on Mull ten years ago, but the scallop specialist has now been shuttered amidst a “near total lack of demand” from clients.

He said: “We’re not fishing or landing to our markets. The boats are mothballed, the men are on the dole and I’ve got a job delivering boxes for a courier firm.”

He went on: “Ethical is not bust, it’s just in aspic until the storm passes.”

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Simon Collins, executive officer of the Shetland Fish Producers Organisation, said the shellfish fleet there is “really vulnerable and really needs help very, very quickly”.

He said: “It’s high-end stuff, it tends to be expensive. When it’s going well, it’s a good business to be in, but it’s not the kind of produce people necessarily buy for the family tea.

“The London buyers have disappeared overnight. They’ve got a real problem.

“You have small boats, overwhelmingly self-employed in communities where there’s not a lot else. It goes back generations and generations. It’s skilled work.

“This is catastrophic for that sector.”

The National: Simon Collins warned that fishing families with generations of tradition faced bankruptcySimon Collins warned that fishing families with generations of tradition faced bankruptcy

Earlier this week Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a package of financial measures intended to shore up struggling businesses as health advice hits enterprises across the economy.

The measures include £330 billion in loans, £20bn in other aid and targeted measures for pubs.

Scotland’s Economy Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, has also announced an offer of loans to companies.

Firms with a rateable value of £18,000-£51,000 will be able to apply for grants worth £25,000.

But McDonell said many boats will be unable to claim that support as their operations are not rateable.

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He told The National: “Boats are having to take it day by day.

“We have seen many crises before as an industry that have generally involved the industry itself. We now have the whole country in crisis.

“There has never been anything on this scale. It’s the whole of the UK.”