By NEIL RIDDELL
FISHING industry representatives this week met with UK fisheries minister Jonathan Shaw to discuss the future for the Shetland whitefish and pelagic fleets ahead of the upcoming EU quota talks.
Speaking after a 90-minute meeting with fisheries representatives in Lerwick on Tuesday morning, Mr Shaw said it was clear that the industry is eager to see a further increase in cod quotas, which were raised by 11 per cent last year.
“Obviously the industry is keen to see that direction of travel continue,” he said. “They say stocks in the ground are plentiful and it’s important to maintain fisheries/scientists’ partnerships.”
Looking ahead to reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2012 Mr Shaw said he wanted to see more regionalised decision-making and said it was vital that the UK placed itself at the forefront of the discussions.
“The European Commission is not set on any particular outcome. It’s a very important priority that we lead that debate; I think the present system has very few advocates.”
Mr Shaw said the talks had been very positive and repeated his call for a regional approach to making corrections on quotas.
“Regional decision-making means decisions can be made that are more real time than ones that often lag behind at present.”
Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Hansen Black said looking for more regional control was all good and well, but that CFP reform was still four years away.
“What we need is action now,” Mr Black said. “We only have a fraction of the fleet that we had ten years ago. If it doesn’t change then it could be further decimated. We want a strong, vibrant fleet here in Shetland and we need reasonable quotas to do that – it’s not being greedy, it’s being realistic.”
Mr Black said there had been “useful” talks with the minister.
“We made it clear that there is a terrible mismatch between the quotas and the fish available on the ground and we’re looking for the government to push for the maximum quotas that is possible.”
He said the industry was frustrated that having taken short term pain, the long term gains promised were still to materialise in the form of larger cod quotas and called for a “much bigger” increase than last year’s 11 per cent, because quotas had started at such a low base line.
“There needs to be a radical look at where we are, at the science, to see if we can get something a bit more up-to-date than two year old science. Fish stocks fluctuate a lot quicker than that. It’s a very difficult job for fishermen to find areas with the right portfolio of fish to match the quotas that we’ve got.”
Mr Shaw also reiterated his commitment to helping the SIC over its appeal to the European Court of Justice over a ruling by the European Commission that payments made to 78 local fishermen under the first time shareholder scheme.
There was criticism locally that the UK government was not pressing Shetland’s case as strongly as it could, while the council is picking up the tab for the £250,000 appeal, but Mr Shaw denied that his department could have done more to help.
“We’re certainly supporting the council,” he said. “I understand the frustration at the delay and we await the [court’s] decision.”
Reacting to the footage which surfaced last month of the Shetland whitefish trawler Prolific dumping thousands of kilos of cod and other species into the North Sea, Mr Shaw said the industry urgently needed a new approach to fisheries management.
“I think we need to improve our approach to discards,” he said. “No-one wants to see fish discarded, but we understand why fishermen have to do that – it’s not their fault.”