Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) has slammed the European Union for introducing the pelagic discard ban before minimum landing size regulations have been changed.
According to SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong, fishermen will be breaking the law by landing undersized mackerel once the rules that prevent them dumping small fish are introduced on 1st January.
Mr Armstrong said: “No one abhors throwing good quality fish over the side more than our fishermen, but we are now in the ridiculous position where we have the discard ban coming into operation for mackerel and herring fishermen on 1st January, yet minimum landing size and catch composition rules have yet to be amended.
“This means that fishermen adhering to the new regulation will actually be breaking the law. We are in the perverse situation of which law a fisherman breaks first, or which piece of legislation the compliance agencies would have to enforce first.”
According to the SFF, there is still little detail of how the new EU regulation will be managed – or assessment made of the impact it will have on the viability of fishing fleets. Under the discard ban, fishermen will have to land all the fish they catch, which will be counted against their quota.
A similar ban will be introduced for white fish in 2016, but its consequences promise to be even more chaotic given the mixed nature of the fishery.
Many of the quotas to be set at next week’s Fisheries Council have already been decided at the recent negotiations between the EU and Norway, with increases for North Sea cod and haddock, and reductions for North Sea whiting and saithe in line with the management plans and the scientific advice.
The UK will be represented at the council by Fisheries Minister George Eustice. Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Government’s Fisheries Secretary, will also be part of the official delegation.
However, the Fisheries Council will decide upon a range of other stocks, including North Sea and West coast prawns, and West coast haddock, herring and northern monkfish.
Mr Armstrong said: “Although the new agreed quotas and the proposals on the table contain the usual mix of increases and decreases, in the main these fluctuations are not huge, which will bring an element of stability to the fishing fleet in 2015. The key underlying element is that the fish stocks of most interest to the Scottish industry are, with a few exceptions, either in robust health or heading encouragingly in that direction.
“This Fisheries Council presents an important opportunity to agree on catch levels that reflects both the actual abundance of fish stocks and the requirement to reduce discards.”
He added: “The fight to stop any further cuts in the number of fishing days for our
fishermen under the discredited cod recovery plan was effectively won two years ago and has been applied automatically ever since. Whilst we do not anticipate effort control to be an issue at the Fisheries Council, it is an area we do need to remain vigilant over.”
The Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael meanwhile paid tribute to the bravery of Scotland’s fishermen as he met industry representatives in Orkney.
He was also to meet members of the Stromness lifeboat crew who answered a Mayday call from Spanish trawlermen who got into difficulties off the west coast of the island earlier this week.
Mr Carmichael said on Friday: “No one who represents island communities like Orkney and Shetland, as I do, needs reminding of the bravery of the fishermen who go to sea and regularly put themselves in harm’s way in order to bring food to our tables.
“This week’s weather is a timely illustration of the risks they run. I pay tribute to them and also to the Stromness lifeboat crew who rescued a Spanish trawler when it got into difficulties on Wednesday.”
He claimed the UK Government would be fighting hard at the EU council to make sure all UK fishermen got a fair deal in 2015.
“We all believe conservation is important, but it is also vital an agreement which recognises the needs of the industry is reached, with realistic quotas set. It needs to build on a good deal agreed between the EU and Norway, which will see increases in cod, haddock and plaice quotas for British fishermen in the North Sea.
“This is an issue which affects fishermen in all of the parts of the UK – not just Scotland – but I am delighted that Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Government’s Fisheries Secretary, has been a key player in the build-up to Monday’s EU Council meeting.
“The negotiating position which George Eustice will be adopting has been informed by months of meetings with Ministers like Richard from the devolved administrations, as well as the industry and environmental groups.
“Richard has also been involved in meetings with EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella, Elizabeth Truss, the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and George Eustice.”