The sea fishing industry is seeing the increasing importance of shellfish landings, which now accounts for around 90% of total Western Isles landings. Standard (deep sea, fin and white fish) landings account for the remaining 10%. A significant proportion of shellfish is exported and the value of landings is partly a reflection of the value of sterling.
The most significant change in the composition of the Western Isles fleet in the last decade has been the decline in the number of boats in the 10–15m category. This trend reflects the changing economics of inshore fishing and is not unique to the Islands. De-commissioning has encouraged retirements and ‘trading down’ to smaller vessels with lower running costs.
Due to the high costs of boats and licences for quota species, new entrants to the industry are mainly in the under 10m sector. The Western Isles has the largest fleet of small vessels of any fishery district in Scotland and is therefore well placed to develop the shellfish and non-quota stocks in inshore waters. Despite the economic pressures on fishing, the total numbers employed in the catching sector have remained fairly stable in recent years. As well as the 680 directly employed in fish catching there are an estimated 300 persons employed in ancillary activities, including 200 engaged in processing and around 100 in other activities such as product marketing, gear manufacture and vessel maintenance and repair.
The fish farming industry in the Western Isles provides around 550 full time equivalent jobs. Direct employment, mainly in marine salmon farming, accounts for over 350 FTE jobs while related activities such as processing, marketing and distribution provide around 200 jobs. Due mainly to lower market prices, many smaller companies have been forced out of salmon farming and three companies now account for over 80% of production.