Lords reject urgent demands for help as rising fuel prices still threaten industry
By NEIL RIDDELL
SHETLAND fishing industry chief Hansen Black said he was “unsurprised” that a House of Lords report this week has rejected the idea of helping fishermen with the cost of fuel prices.
The report, from the Lords sub-committee for environment and agriculture chaired by Lord Sewel, is a mid-term review of European fishing subsidies. Speaking after its publication on Monday, Lord Sewel said subsidising fuel prices at a time when there was over-capacity in Europe was “completely wrong” and that exits from the fishing fleet should be left to the free market.
He said the last reform of the common fisheries policy (CFP) six years ago, handing responsibility for a reduction in the size of fleets back to member states, had failed and that the size of the fleet was unsustainable due to the reluctance of some countries to make reductions, though he added this was not the case in Scotland where he feels the balance is about right.
Mr Black, chief executive of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, said there was very little new in the report and that comments on fuel subsidies were of no surprise.
“It’s quite clearly been the government line, that a fuel subsidy to reduce the cost of fuel is simply not an option that they’re willing to consider,” he said.
The report states that the “dismal” reputation of the CFP is warranted because compliance is poor and enforcement of the rules is not even-handed, while the intricate regulatory regime has not succeeded in protecting fish stocks and management of fisheries is suffering from over-centralisation.
The report recommends fundamental reform of the CFP and the creation of regional committees and voluntary conservation schemes, with the EU itself responsible only for setting strategic objectives.
It calls for consistent punishment for fishermen operating in different member states, with penalties imposed via a points system which could eventually lead to permanent suspension of fishing rights, and the introduction of rights-based management within individual states.
Mr Black said he agreed with some of the measures recommended in the report, many of which have been identified as necessary for a number of years, and that there were already “moves afoot” to address some of the concerns.
“We have the tightest control regime here in Scotland and, in terms of our competitors, they are fishing under a different set of rules in a lot of ways to us,” he said. “The Commission have actually set up a control agency with the very job [of] ensuring a level playing field across the whole of the EU in terms of enforcement and compliance. They’re about to get underway for real very shortly … the whole idea is to make sure that our competitors in Denmark, France and Spain are all working to the same interpretation of the rules.”
Mr Black said the Commission had also made clear it would not be putting in place measures to reduce the cost of fuel for fishermen and that funds designed to encourage further decommissioning would be of little use in Shetland, where the previous two decommissioning schemes have seen the whitefish fleet reduced from 35 boats to 20.
He said: “What they are putting money towards is for fleet restructuring, either decommissioning or partial decommissioning of fleets. That’s something we, from a Shetland point of view, would be concerned about. I’d be concerned to see any fewer boats than at present.”