A significant proportion of the Scottish whitefish fleet is facing financial collapse unless there is an easing of the current management restrictions.
That was the message industry leaders took to Scottish fisheries minister Richard Lochhead when they met him in Aberdeen on Wednesday.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) warned that much of the industry was struggling for survival in the face of the restrictions of the three-year cod recovery plan, which saw a 25 per cent reduction in fishing effort last year, a further 10 per cent reduction this year and a further 10 per cent to be imposed on that next year – cuts which Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Hansen Black described as “draconian”.
After the meeting with Mr Lochhead SFF president Alan Coghill said: “It was a constructive meeting. We outlined to the minister in the starkest possible terms that large sections of the Scottish fleet are operating right on the edge of economic viability and that any further cut in fishing opportunity would throw many boats out of business and hit fragile fishing communities.
“Discussions ranged over all the major issues and the cabinet secretary and officials reassured the industry that the Scottish Government understood the difficulties and are committed along with the industry to resolving the problems.
“A number of common objectives were identified and both parties agreed with the need for a close working relationship particularly to secure the best possible outcome from the end-of-year negotiations.
“There are current ongoing trials with catch quotas [that account for the mortality of all fish caught, rather than just fish landed at port, with the aim of eliminating discards], and while this is an option worth further consideration, there are misgivings about their potential in some parts of the industry.
“For this reason, the Scottish Government is preparing a performance report on current catch quota trials of fully documented fishing. A programme of meetings with the broader industry around a variety of ports will then follow.”
Mr Black said Scotland, and Shetland in particular, was the part of the UK most affected by the EU-imposed restrictions. “It’s time to slow down [the restrictions] before putting the Shetland fleet out of business,” he said.
The SFF will be voicing its concerns in talks in the near future with UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon. The federation will also be pressing the Scottish and UK Governments in the run-up to crucial end-of-the-year European negotiations on catching opportunity for 2011 to resist the use of ill- fitting or inappropriate regulation that is currently bedevilling the industry.
In addition, the SFF says there is the need for an immediate review of current catch composition rules on the west coast of Scotland, which prevent prawn boats from diversifying into other fisheries, for example squid.