SCOTLAND’S fishing fleet landed an overall catch worth £560 million last year, returns show.

Vessels registered in this country caught 466,000 tonnes of sea fish and shellfish in 2017.

But despite a 3% year-on-year weight increase, the value dipped by 1%.

Reporting the Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics, the Scottish Government said: “Scottish vessels landed 59% by tonnage and 73% by value into Scotland.

“Landings into the rest of the UK accounted for only 3% by tonnage and 5% by value and the remainder was landed abroad, with 39% by tonnage – 22% by value – landed abroad.

“The top three destinations abroad were Norway, the Republic of Ireland and Denmark.”

Almost 4800 people were employed on the 2065 active Scottish-registered fishing vessels responsible for the catches.

Mackerel remains the most valuable stock, and while blue whiting tonnage went up, this species is predominately for industrial use and attracts far lower prices at market.

Popular species haddock, monkfish and cod all increased in both tonnage and value.

The results update provisional numbers published earlier this year.

Meanwhile, in a separate paper, salmon sector giant Scottish Sea Farms has defended its Orkney enterprises as vital to the local economy.

Analysis carried out for the firm by independent economic and development consultants Imani Development “provides a new measure of the importance of salmon farming to rural populations”.

Owned by Norwegian producers SalMar and the Lerøy Seafood Group, Scottish Sea Farms is amongst the companies criticised by conservation groups over environmental and welfare concerns.

The sector, which has ambitious growth targets, has been under scrutiny in recent months as MSPs probe its activities and impact, with evidence sessions held in Holyrood.

The company says the health and welfare of its stock is the “number one priority at all times” and last month reported a “major milestone” in an environmentally friendly method to control lice.

Now the new report says it has grown its Orkney operation from nine to 44 full-time jobs over the first 10 years of operation, also spending an average of £1.2m across more than 70 local businesses every year.

This spend indirectly supports as many as 250 jobs, it is claimed.

Managing director Jim Gallagher said: “To those living on mainland Scotland, 50 jobs might not seem like a huge deal.

“However, for remote communities such as Eday, Rousay and Sanday that might only have a population of 150, each new job can make the difference between a local staying on the island or leaving, or new people being attracted onto the islands.”

Speaking at the launch of the study, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Salmon farming plays a vital role in many remote rural communities, like the Orkney Islands, where local economies are bolstered by the provision of well paid, highly skilled jobs, as well as the creation of a highly valuable and sought-after product.

“Last year’s export figures showed record numbers of £6 billion for Scotland’s food and drink sector. A significant proportion of that was thanks to the popularity of our farmed salmon in restaurants and homes across the world.”