Western Isles fishermen are furious after trawlers from the east coast were spotted fishing for prawns in the Minch.
They say that the extra activity from the Butt to Barra risks shutting the Minch fisheries in little over two months.
Around half a dozen vessels which normally fish out of Banff and Fraserburgh have reappeared off Lewis in recent weeks. Trawls are also being towed between Bayble and Tolsta Head, locals say.
The boats are competing with Hebridean fishermen in some of the best prawn grounds and are said to be making good catches of the crustaceans.
It has sparked fears that the east coast influx will leave little for the smaller local boats and cause the Minch prawn fishing to close in September, which would hit island fishermen’s earnings.
Fishermen say the trawling also seriously threatens onshore jobs as the local fleet supplies island plants which process nephrops for scampi for export to supermarket chains.
The fishermen have protested to fisheries minister Richard Lochhead that the larger east boat boats threaten to decimate the fisheries this summer. Isles MP Mr Angus MacNeil has also raised the issue with the Scottish Government.
Mr MacNeil stressed: "The seriousness of the situation cannot be underestimated, as the fishing will not be sustainable for the year."
He added: "Fishermen up and down the Hebrides have contacted me in an anxious and agitated state about the fact that the Minch fishery might close very early due to larger than usual boats fishing in the Minch.
"In my view and the views of many fishermen there should be horsepower limits on boats fishing within the 12 miles, which includes the Minch, of 350hp-400hp as an absolute maximum fishing the Minches.
"Barra for example, has just under 50 working in the fish factory with a further 30 people supplying that from fishing boats who could be lying idle at the end of the year. Fishermen in Harris are equally concerned and see their livelihoods evaporating after two thirds of the year.
"I am calling on Mr Lochhead to get some sustainable management into the fishery and to ensure that jobs are protected.
"What is happening now is manifestly failing the local West Coast fishermen of the Hebrides and their communities which have recently been described as some of the most vulnerable in Scotland."
The Scottish Government said it was aware of the island fishermen’s fears and its fisheries agency Marine Scotland is monitoring the situation.
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