In common with their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, Shetland fishermen are facing a cut of a fifth in the amount of North Sea cod they can catch next year as a result of a new deal between the European Union and Norway.
They will also be able to take 13 per cent less saithe and five per cent less haddock, although the amount of whiting is to increase by 21 per cent and herring by 20 per cent under the agreement reached on Saturday night.
A deal has yet to be done on mackerel, but it is hoped that a three-way agreement can be reached between the EU, Norway and Faroe over that stock. Iceland recently pulled out of talks aimed at securing a way forward after it and Faroe unilaterally introduced large increases in their quotas.
Scottish fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead claimed the cut in cod quota was ameliorated to some extent by an extension of the catch quota scheme under which up to 40 boats will now be able to land everything they catch, cutting down on discards, a common characteristic of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
However Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said that still left around 75 boats facing a big cut.
Mr Lochhead said: “Scottish fishermen will be able to land, rather than having to discard, an extra amount equal to 12 per cent of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for Cod. This will enable us to more than double the number of boats participating in the scheme, to around 40. Therefore, landing more yet catching less will help the stock.
“We are disappointed, however, that not every vessel that wants to can take part and that Norway did not support extending this innovative scheme to other species, particularly as Norway claim that a discard-free fishery is one of their key objectives. Scotland will continue to promote the effectiveness of catch quotas in stopping the disgrace of discards. Once again it is Scotland leading the way in responsible fishing and making positive, practical change – that helps fish stocks while also making it a more viable industry for our fishermen.
“What is important is that these decisions have taken heed of the most up to date robust scientific advice to achieve a deal that will enable sustainable fishing in the North Sea for the year ahead. The 15 per cent increase in whiting is good news, which was achieved despite the EU and Norway starting from a position of whiting reductions. As is often the case with such complex negotiations, the results are a mixture of good news and tough outcomes.
“For mackerel, we remain hopeful that a new, three-way deal between the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands can be put in place next week. This follows the regrettable decision by Iceland to walk away from talks, putting at risk a carefully managed fishery that is Scotland’s most valuable stock.”
Mr Armstrong said it was good news that that an agreement had been reached as this will enable access for Scottish boats into the Norwegian sector straight after the New Year, which wasn’t possible at the start of 2010.
On cod, he said: “Once the catch limit for cod has been reached, then fishing for the species must halt. The aim of the scheme is to eliminate discards and this year 16 Scottish whitefish boats participated and, depending on the detail, the SFF anticipates that somewhere in the region of 35 boats will be eligible for 2011.
“We need to immediately assess the lessons learned from fishermen who participated in the catch quota scheme this year and new fishermen joining the scheme for 2011 will need to be prepared to install monitoring cameras on their vessels.
“The catch quota system has, without doubt, potential for the future. However, it has been spun as an instant answer to discards. At this point it is not. It is absolutely clear from those who participated in the trials to date that unless there are changes to the present TAC and quota rules, then it will simply not work overall in either reducing discards or in improving the commercial position of the whitefish fleet. There is much immediate development work to be done by industry, government and the European Commission.”
He added: “Whilst there are elements of good news in this agreement, overall the situation is very grim with further cuts being imposed on a Scottish whitefish fleet that is seriously financially pressed. The Scottish and UK governments must do everything in their power to mitigate the extent of these cuts at the final EU Fish Council meeting coming up shortly and give our industry a fighting chance for survival.”
Meanwhile, the SFF is calling for major innovation in fisheries regulations to give fleet a fighting chance for survival.
It has told the UK governments and the EC that the downward spiral of year-on-year reductions in catching opportunities for the under pressure Scottish whitefish and prawn fleets must stop and that urgent and innovative change is needed in the way that fisheries are managed.
In letters to Mr Lochhead, UK minister Richard Benyon and EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki, Mr Armstrong says that a serious effort must made to develop regulations that cater for the complex mixed fisheries that the Scottish fleet operates in.