By LOUISE THOMASON
FINAL decisions made at the EU Fisheries Council last week have resulted in good news for Scottish fishermen overall.
However, Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Hansen Black described the outcome as “unimpressive” where Shetland was concerned.
The result of the talks is that West Coast grounds can remain open for both prawn and whitefish fishing, provided cod avoidance measures are adhered to.
Some of these include conservation methods such as the use of bigger net sizes to allow fish to escape and real time closures of grounds.
The news has been welcomed although industry leaders are warning the measures represent a “real and difficult challenge” for fishermen.
Scottish Fishermen’s Association chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: “We are pleased that the EC has accepted our alternative proposals to ensure the continuation of fishing on the West coast and the challenge now is to get these measures in operation and prove that they will work.
“It is essential that the regulations attached to this new deal are practicable for fishermen to operate.”
Mr Armstrong pointed out that while an important aspect of the outcome of the talks was the way fisheries were now being managed, the reality of new measures could prove to be very challenging.
He said: “The Scottish industry has been at the vanguard of initiatives that ensure fishermen adopt measures to avoid catching unwanted fish in the first place, rather than the traditional control measures of tighter quotas and other restrictions, which can simply lead to discarding.
“In the North Sea, there are possible rewards in this as it gives the potential for fishermen to catch less and land more; however, the changes will present a real challenge, where additional closures and the expensive requirement to rapidly develop more selective gear will prove difficult.”
It is thought that ministers will push for financial aid for fishermen hit badly by new requirements. The outcome for prawn in the West Coast and North Sea are quota cuts of five per cent. This is less than was expected but still comes short of a roll-over of the 2008 quota, which was proposed by the Scottish and UK governments.
The deal also includes an eight and five per cent increase for West Coast monkfish and megrim respectively. In practical terms, the agreement for next year means that fishermen will be able to “buy back” the number of days they are allowed to fish through the adoption of a range of whitefish avoidance measures such as area closures to fishing. The detail of how that will be achieved will be worked on during the early part of next year.
Specific quotas for whitefish in the West Coast are still to be decided on however it is thought the reductions in quota for cod, haddock and whiting will be less than originally expected.
While the decision on West Coast grounds remaining open is a relief for Shetland fishermen in terms of displacement, the overall deal is less than what was hoped for.
Mr Black said the outcome of the talks was unimpressive and that, in focusing too heavily on the issue of West Coast closures, the UK government “took its eye off the ball” in terms of the North Sea.
He said: “From our point of view the outcome is quite disappointing. We had been hoping for an increase on the North Sea megrim quota. This did happen in the West Coast but the uptake is not at a maximum there.
“Slightly better news is that the minor stocks have rolled over; had there been continued cuts in quota for stock such as ling it would mean running out of quota, which would have been ludicrous.”