By LOUISE THOMASON
Fishing industry heads and government officials rallied together this week to protest against the economic situation currently facing fishermen.
A two day meeting was held between the Scottish Government, the Scottish Fisherman’s Federation (SFF) and the European Commission to highlight the “serious commercial challenge” resulting from the regulations imposed at December’s Fisheries Council.
Aimed at reducing cod mortality by 25 per cent, the new restrictions on quota and days and sea have been described as “unworkable” and “disastrous”.
Speaking before the meetings, SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong said the necessity of these talks was made clear by the level of discontent felt among those in the industry.
Mr Armstrong said: “The scene is set by the unmistakable message from the men at sea – that the regulations controlling days at sea, worked up over 2008 and agreed finally by the Council of Ministers last December are unworkable.
“There was no proper economic impact assessment done at the time of introduction and the real truth is now becoming apparent – lack of days at sea to harvest fish sustainably is threatening the viability of sectors of the industry.
“All of us involved, the industry, governments in Edinburgh and Whitehall and the European Commission, must now take the essential next step and urgently look for practical change to the regulations.”
No immediate results were expected. However the talks were described as “constructive”, particularly those with director in charge of the north east Atlantic Reinhard Priebe.
Mr Armstrong said: “We explained to him that the fishing industry is committed to sustainable fishing and the recovery of cod stocks and has made great efforts and sacrifices over the last year to achieve these goals.
“But these new measures now being introduced represent a very serious commercial challenge to the industry.
“We pulled no punches and explained very clearly that if our fishermen lose confidence in their own government and the EC, then trust will disappear and all the progress that has been made over the last 18 months will have been lost.
“We made it very plain that the speed and the severity of the new measures being applied is totally intolerable for the fleet and is causing real hardship.”
Environment minister Richard Lochhead said he was dedicated to helping the Scottish fleet cope with the “challenging and complex” regulations imposed, especially in light of the current economic situation.
Mr Lochhead said: “This week’s talks between Scottish Government and EU officials were a welcome opportunity to stress the impact of the economic downturn on the industry.
“Although our quota landings are currently similar to last year we agree with the industry that an economic assessment of the cod recovery plan and west coast measures by the commission is absolutely essential.
“This will need to include evidence on the financial impact on our fleets in the current economic circumstances – prices on major stocks have fallen significantly for some major stocks compared to a year ago.
“Thankfully the real time closures have already contributed significantly towards the cod mortality targets but we recognise that this still leaves our fleets facing a lot of pain. It’s important that the Commission takes this into account and I will be making these points with my UK counterpart and commissioner Borg in the near future.”
Shetland Fisherman’s Association chairman Leslie Tait was at the talks in Edinburgh. He said the industry had presented a united front but getting any results, if any, would be a long and drawn out process.