Quota changes have been welcomed by the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, though its chairman has warned Brussels is “still living in its own land of make-believe” when it comes to a discard ban.
Leslie Tait said the quota shifts ratified by the December Fisheries Council this week were broadly good news for local whitefish boats.
Negotiations to finalise fish catching opportunities for 2017 got underway in Brussels on Monday.
“The uplifts for cod, saithe, ling and monkfish are particularly welcome, especially with cod being subject to the discard ban from 1st January 2017,” Mr Tait said.
“The major demersal stocks are in very good health – and that’s largely due to the efforts and sacrifices of fishermen stretching back a decade and more.
“The unfortunate error in the haddock science does not give fishermen any feeling of security when planning their business for the future with huge fluctuations of quota from year to year.”
Mr Tait said that even after a year of the discard ban or landings obligation for whitefish species like haddock and plaice, it was still not clear to fisherman how the rules would work in practice when it applies to a larger number of species.
Mackerel, herring and prawns are already included in the scheme, with whiting and cod being added for 2017.
Mr Tait said: “We’re staggered that the EU is still pressing on with a discard ban that it knows full well to be unworkable. Brussels is still living in its own land of make-believe.
“We look forward to a time when we can regain control of our fisheries management regime and make sure it is sensible and practical.”
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said more species coming under the discard ban was “a particular challenge for 2017”.
“Whilst no-one hates discarding fish more than our fishermen, this has the potential to cause real operational problems because of so-called ‘choke species’, where a mixed fishery has to close down in its entirety because the allocation of one species has been fully taken.
“This is just one of the reasons why our fishermen are so enthusiastically embracing Brexit. Regaining control of our 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone will provide the twin advantages of fairer shares of catching opportunity for our fishermen, as well as better overall management.
“It means Scotland and the UK can at long last implement fit-for-purpose fisheries management plans, including a workable discards policy, that are good for fishing communities and good for the environment.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said the quota increases were “good news for boats, salespeople and processors”.
“It has taken some time for the science to catch up with the reality of the abundant fish that are in our local waters,” he said.
“So the government do need to work on fisheries science being as up-to-date as possible.
“The greatest challenge for 2017 is the discard ban. Increased quota may help but Shetland’s primary catches will have to be carefully monitored to avoid any possibility of our boats being forced to tie-up because a specific quota is finished through the year.
“That was the warning I gave the Fisheries Minister Fergus Ewing in the Holyrood debate last week.
“A discard ban in a mixed whitefish fishery cannot work. There will always be problems.
“I will continue to urge the Scottish government to explore the Norwegian approach which is more flexible and practical in achieving the sensible objective of stopping marketable fish being thrown over the side.”