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November 10, 2003 12:00 AM

New entrants to Scotland's fishing industry heard today about the Executive's commitment to securing its future.

Environment and Rural Development Minister Ross Finnie visited Banff and Buchan College to see at first hand training being delivered through the Sea Fishing Modern Apprenticeship.

The programme developed by the Sea Fish Industry Authority and delivered by the North East Fishermen's Training authority equips apprentices with practical skills required by mates, skippers and engineers.

Mr Finnie said:

"The Executive is committed to securing a viable future for the fishing industry in Scotland. The apprentices here at Banff and Buchan college are the future of that industry.

"We are well aware of the difficulties facing the white fish sector in particular, and we are working closely with all sectors to address those issues.

"It would be negligent however in dealing with those difficulties to lose sight of the opportunities.

"An essential element in securing a sustainable future for fishing will be to ensure that those who choose to come into fishing have the skills and training to succeed.

"Modern apprenticeships are a valuable tool in our strategy to promote economic prosperity and to develop a culture of lifelong learning. They build on a proud tradition of craft and skills.

"Already these MAs have attracted substantial interest. By the beginning of the next college year there will be about 20 young people training towards an MA in sea fishing. I look forward to the continued expansion of the programme over the years to come.

"Key to the success of these qualifications is the involvement of the industry itself. I welcome the fact that in the sea fishing modern apprenticeships, the fishing industry is investing in its own future."

The visit to Banff and Buchan college was one of a number of meetings the Minister undertook in Fraserburgh. Mr Finnie also met with Fraserburgh Harbour trustees to discuss a range of issues affecting the industry.

The Sea Fishing Modern Apprenticeship was developed by the Sea Fish Industry Authority who approved the North East Fisherman's Training Association (NEFTA) to deliver the Sea Fishing MA in April 2003.

Banff and Buchan College delivers the underpinning knowledge and NEFTA arranges berths for the young people and assists with assessment. Banff and Buchan College provides training for the marine industry throughout the UK and continue to be a major training provider for the fishing sector.

Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise provide a funding contribution for Modern Apprenticeships through their network of local enterprise companies. In this case, Scottish Enterprise Grampian contract with NEFTA, which represents the training interests of the fishcatching sector. They have been a recognised contractor with Scottish Enterprise for many years.

All MAs have employed status and employers meet all wage costs and also contribute to the cost of the training.

To date two young people have entered the level 2 programme with a further four due to start in January 2004. In addition, it is expected that approximately 15 individuals aged between 19-24 who are working in the sector and have previously gained the level 2 qualification will enter the Modern Apprenticeship during the next year. This will mean that at the start of the next college year (August 2004), there will be around 20 people undertaking the Sea Fishing MA.

There are eight further MAs in Scotland training towards the MA in Sea Fishing. Five in Shetland, and three in the Western Isles.