Britain must ensure the Scottish fishing fleet is not hit by further cuts in the number of days that vessels can go to sea next year at the annual Fisheries Council in Brussels tomorrow and on Friday.
That’s the message from the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, Bertie Armstrong, who described such an eventuality as both economically devastating and likely to destroy years of hard work by fishermen to conserve stocks.
For the Atlantic and North Sea, the European Commission is propopsing to increase total allowable catches (TACs) for nine stocks including herring, haddock, hake, sole and megrim and reduce them for 53 others. It is proposing that no fishing for cod take place West of Scotland due to the poor state of the stock.
Mr Armstrong said, however, that this year’s Fisheries Council would be different because the focus would be less on overall tonnage in TACs than on “a series of extreme threats associated with other aspects of the regulations, most specifically effort control and the number of days that whitefish and prawn vessels can put to sea”.
The failure of Iceland and Faroe to agree a deal on mackerel stocks would have a knock-on impact on a small but significant section of the Scottish whitefish fleet that cannot make use of its entitlement to fish in Faroese waters.
It is the first major test for Britain in the EU since Prime Minister David Cameron wielded his veto last week after other European countries blocked his attempt to safeguard the City of London as Eurozone members move towards greater fiscal harmony.
Mr Armstrong said: “The forthcoming December Fisheries Council will have a different complexion compared with previous years due to the main focus being on effort control and other matters rather than quota cuts.
“Indeed, many quotas for 2012 are in line for increases due largely to key stocks being under long term management plans that have been further aided by the Scottish fishing fleet spearheading a raft of conservation measures such as real time closures and the use of more selective fishing gears.
“In terms of scientific advice, the likely final decisions at December Council on quantities of fish to catch will reflect the responsible behaviour of the industry over the last few years.
Species important to the Scottish industry such as North Sea haddock, whiting and herring will be in line for substantial increases, and for the West of Scotland, a potential increase of some 400 per cent in haddock would be entirely in accordance with scientific advice.
“Effort control, or days at sea for the whitefish and prawn sectors is certain to take centre stage. The EC’s obsession with reductions in days at sea is the hallmark of the failure of the Long Term Plan for cod. Cod is actually recovering, but because of the rigid connection in the plan between effort reduction and fish mortality, and the consequent annual automatic reduction of days, the whitefish and prawn fleets are facing the wholly unworkable prospect of being allowed to fish for only four days every fortnight in 2012, which is now trumped by the threat of considerably heftier reductions due to the EC interpretation of the details in the rules.
“The spirit of the plan – reduction of fishing mortality on cod – is not being served at all by the letter of the law in reducing days at sea, which has now reached a stage where we are well past the point of sensible returns. Further cuts in days at sea will simply shut down the fleet in its current form.”