Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Hansen Black today backed calls for a new system of fisheries management based on regional control and greater industry input to secure a future for Scottish boats.
He supported the strong comments made by Scottish fisheries minister Richard Lochhead and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation following the conclusion of the annual European Union Fish Council in Brussels, which set quotas for next year.
With a number of Scotland’s priorities already agreed with Norway earlier this month, the main changes agreed at the talks include increases in the high value megrim quota, which is up five per cent in the North Sea, and North Sea whiting and herring, which will rise by 15 and 21 per cent respectively.
But there was bleak news elsewhere. Landings of prawns for the North Sea will remain the same as this year and haddock has been cut by five per cent, while the reduction for cod is set at 20 per cent.
The provision for fishermen to catch extra cod in the North Sea equal to 12 per cent of the reduced total allowable catch (TAC) if they participate in the “catch quota” scheme, where boats land all the cod they catch but stop fishing once their allocation of that species has been reached, will, it is hoped, reduce discards.
West coast fishermen are being hit harder, with quota cuts almost across the board: haddock and cod will both be reduced by 25 per cent and nephrops by 15 per cent.
Mr Black, who was in Brussels for the talks, said: “It’s what we expected but we’re still disappointed that it couldn’t be better. We’ve got to look ahead now to next year and to hopefully working on a management system that can deal with the mixed fishery that we have here.”
While the North Sea fared slightly better than the west coast, the outcome for the whitefish sector in particular was disappointing.
He said: “There were two worrying things, in particular the cuts in North Sea cod and cut in effort that will accompany that – the waters around Shetland are full of cod and so there’s no avoiding cod.
“On the pelagic side there was some good news, in the increases in herring and mackerel, but there are still questions over the longer term issues surrounding mackerel. A lot of good work has gone into building up a good mackerel fishery and the actions of countries such as Faroe and Iceland are jeopardising that. I hope the ministers are true to their word and impose sanctions.”
He said that while Shetland was in no way reliant on the west coast fishery, the cuts in quota there will still have an impact.
More worrying however was the continued approach of decisions being taken without a comprehensive understanding of the science surrounding stock levels.
Mr Black said he “definitely” agreed with calls for a re-organisation of the management system and said the association had been a “fundamental” supporter of an overhaul.
He said there were fears that using a catch quota system based on a lack of up to date science and a single species approach would mean a lack of flexibility and a system that is out of touch with what fishermen and fleets are actually experiencing in the seas.
“Looking at the science it’s not real-time enough to cope with fluctuations, and it’s a dangerous route to go down if the management has no flexibility to cope with various stocks.”
Isles MSP Tavish Scott said: “The Shetland whitefish fleet and the shore side businesses that support them form a critical part of Shetland’s economy. This year’s fisheries negotiations in Brussels appear, from what the industry representatives present say, to have been as difficult as ever.
“I share the industry’s concerns over the prospects for 2011. The new technical restrictions, known as catch quotas, can only work if there are fundamental changes to the present system which doesn’t work. So real reform is necessary before our industry can see a brighter future. That is what we should be trying to achieve.”
Mr Lochhead said: “These tough and exhausting talks have delivered positives for Scotland in some areas and disappointments in others.
“The future remains challenging for many Scottish fishermen, nevertheless I believe that we have done everything we can to secure a fair deal for Scotland, and to show the commission that we are pushing for significant change in fisheries management.
“Through the very tough negotiations this autumn, we have fought hard to ensure that robust science has been the cornerstone of our negotiations, as it is in all our interests to support sustainable fisheries and stock recovery.
“It’s frustrating that our west coast proposals were not taken fully on board at this council. Our sensible plans for west coast cod and whiting would have seen a zero total allowable catch, helping these stocks recover, with some provision for unintended by-catch to be landed.
“Instead, impossibly low quotas will effectively lead to discards, as fishermen are forced to throw dead fish back in to the sea, however, a proposed 50 per cent cut in quota has at least been reduced to 25 per cent.
“We also put forward – with the most up-to-date scientific backing – the case for maintaining monkfish quota and an increase for megrim. Although we have been largely successful on this front, it is frustrating we have to spend so much time negotiating, simply in order to bring quotas in line with the scientific advice.
“No-one is satisfied with a system that micro-manages every fishery decision from the Black Sea to the North Sea, from Burgas to Banff, with 27 member states fighting it out. It is a torturous process and with a broken and ineffective Common Fisheries Policy, the need for huge changes in EU fisheries management is abundantly clear.
SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong also called for change to the management system and was less positive about the outcome of the talks.
Mr Armstrong said: “Despite some good negotiating successes, for which the Scottish government team is congratulated, the conclusion of the EU Fish Council has resulted inevitably in a sombre picture for the Scottish fleet with further overall losses in fishing opportunity, particularly on the west coast of Scotland.
“The Scottish fleet has been at the forefront of conservation by innovating and spearheading a number of initiatives such as closed areas and new types of selective fishing gear.
“A lot of our difficulties stem from the regulations and management measures failing to fit the conditions in which the Scottish fleets work. There will be some very significant revisions in 2011 – the cod management plan and new arrangements proposed under the review of the Common Fisheries Policy.
“It is essential that these opportunities are seized by the industry and government working together to ensure the introduction of a more effective management regime that enables increased input from the fishing industry and greater regional control.
“Such change would help secure both the future of our fish stocks and our valuable fishing industry.”