Local fishing industry leaders have reacted positively to the limited agreement on quotas for next year agreed at the Fisheries Council, in particular an increase in the amount of high value megrim that can be caught.
But with the EU-Norway talks that presage the annual gathering in Brussels having broken up last week without agreement, they were at pains to point out that the key decisions that will affect isles fishermen have yet to be taken. The talks are due to resume next month.
At the council, which came to an end on Tuesday evening, quotas for North Sea prawn and monkfish were rolled over, while the megrim quota was increased by 10 per cent. Interim quotas of 65 per cent of this year’s quotas were set for haddock, mackerel and cod until resolution is reached between the EU and Norway.
The “catch less, land more” trials pioneered by Scotland also got support from the council as an innovative way of rewarding fishermen for their conservation efforts. In return for catching and discarding less, fishermen will be allowed to land and earn more.
Chief executive of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association Hansen Black said that although many of the decisions that will have a direct impact on Shetland’s fishermen remain undecided, the council had moved things “in the right direction”.
Mr Black said: “We’re pleased that the megrim quota has been increased, megrim is one of the main stocks and a very valuable and important stock. There is some disappointment that the increase is not more than 10 per cent but we still think it’s moving in the right direction.
“A lot of the main quotas, for North Sea haddock, cod, mackerel, saithe and herring won’t be agreed until the EU-Norway talks are concluded … in the last week in January. At this moment in time as far as having a right grip on where we’re at … there’s still an awful lot to be decided.”
Speaking in Brussels, Scottish fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Given the challenging backdrop, these were always going to be tough talks. We have fought hard for our fishermen and the outcome will offer some degree of comfort to parts of our industry.
“After long negotiations, working with the UK, we have achieved gains for some of our most valuable stocks and secured interim arrangements to ensure stocks shared with Norway can still be fished. We have also secured support for ‘catch less, land more’ trials – another example of Scotland showing international leadership on conservation.
“We do not pretend that life will be any less tough for some vessels, particularly in the whitefish sector. Further cuts in days at sea, agreed before this council, will be challenging but as we did last year we will work with our fishermen to enable them to buy back days in return for signing up to conservation measures.
“Quota cuts, on top of draconian technical measures re-imposed in November, will make life difficult on the west coast but we have successfully negotiated action to ease the pain, including days at sea exemptions, quota flexibility and a re-examination of the emergency measures.
“We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the industry to support them through these difficult times. In the new year we will begin working with them on the detail of a longer-term recovery plan and we will increase our efforts to return more decision-making powers to Scotland. Fishing policy made in Brussels is bad for Scotland and we will shortly be setting out our response to proposals for European fisheries policy.”
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong warned that while the council had heeded pressure from the SFF and UK governments in lessening the severity of the cutbacks, next year will still produce challenges for fishermen.
Mr Armstrong said: “While the final situation could have been worse, given the original proposals on the table, there is no doubt that the Scottish industry will be facing another tremendously challenging year, with there being a continuing downward trend in quota for many species and further restrictions on days-at-sea.
“The west coast cut in prawns is a blow for this fleet because it is the mainstay for the majority of vessels – although the reduction is less than originally proposed.”
West coast haddock has also been cut significantly, with a 25 per cent fall in the quota for 2010, again less than the original proposal of 54 per cent but with the prospect of another reduction again 2011 depending on the stock science. West of Scotland cod had a small increase of six per cent.