The UK fishing industry has reacted with dismay after the government refused it short-term aid to relieve the current fuel cost pressure.
The Scottish Fishermen's Federation claimed that, following a 100% increase in fuel costs over the past year, fuel now accounts for between 30%-50% of the costs of a typical fishing trip and warned that fishermen's livelihoods were in jeopardy.
Industry body Seafish recently said retail prices could have to rise by up to 50% to make fishing profitable at current levels.
SFF and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations met UK fisheries minister Jonathan Shaw this week to appeal for 'de minimis' aid, a type of emergency state support provided for by EU legislation, but their appeals were rejected on the grounds that the government's resources were insufficient.
"If we were to use the full amount of de minimis aid - a maximum €102m over three years - this would subsidise little more than one month of fuel for every business," a Defra spokesman said.
Shaw's decision was labelled a "massive blow to our industry" by SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong. "It is not a case of resources not being available but more a lack of political will on the part of the UK government," he said.
Fishermen across Spain and Portugal have begun striking this week in protest at the high price of oil, and although Armstrong said there were no current plans for similar action in the UK, he did not rule it out for the long term.
Armstrong added that the UK fleet's more conciliatory approach to negotiations should not be interpreted as their situation being any less serious. "In Europe it seems the bairn that shouts the loudest gets the most milk," he said.
The Scottish cabinet secretary for fisheries, Richard Lockhead, said fishing ministers from the UK-devolved governments urgently needed to seek a solution.