THE seafood sector has welcomed a £5 million Scottish Government help package after the export market dried up due to the coronavirus.

Much of the prawns, crab and langoustine catch landed in Scotland is sold for consumers in Spain and France, with other stocks bought up by the high-end restaurant sector. But many boats are now tied up without clients to sell to.

Yesterday, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing announced more than £5m will be used to give financial support to assist more than 650 seafood boats during the Covid-19 pandemic.

An initial payment of 50% of two months’ average earnings will be made to owners of all full-time Scottish-registered fishing vessels measuring 12 metres long and under. Most of these are found in island and other small communities. Meanwhile, support is being developed for the onshore processing industry, which is a major employer in coastal communities.

Ewing said: “I have spent the last week listening to and liaising with our fishing industry, and there are many who have lost their livelihoods with little prospect of an early recovery. The need for action is immediate.”

Kevin McDonell, of the Mallaig-based West of Scotland Fish Producers Association told The National: “The scheme is very welcome. In terms of the speed of them being able to get it out – just over 10 days – the Scottish Government has to be commended.”

McDonell said some crews are still able to sell vastly reduced quantities of produce to “extremely local” markets, such as in Stornoway. However, he said: “In the west of Scotland alone there are hundreds of boats tied up.

“There will be some boats just over the 12m limit that are tied up next to others just under – one will get the support and one won’t. There is an appeals process whereby boats that think they require a payment can still apply.”

Last week, The National told how the industry was facing a coronavirus “catastrophe”. Some vessels had already been tied up for a week, with overseas crewmen having left Scotland after the work they came here to do evaporated.

Simon Collins, executive officer of the Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation, said the shellfish fleet there was “really vulnerable”.

He stated: “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 have 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. This is catastrophic for that sector.