The chairman of Shetland Fishermen’s Association has criticised European fisheries ministers for their “absurd” decision to cut mackerel quota for the coming year.
Leslie Tait made the comments after the December Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels rubber-stamped new fish quotas on Tuesday night.
The net outcome of the negotiations is an additional £44 million of fishing opportunities for the Scottish fleet, but while the meeting was described by Mr Tait as “fairly positive” for whitefish boats the pelagic sector’s mackerel quota has been reduced by 20 per cent.
This decision, which could mean a potential drop in the value of Scotland’s mackerel quota of around £32 million, exemplified the worst aspects of the EU’s fisheries management, Mr Tait said.
Fisheries is one of the industries in Britain which has been most vocal in supporting Brexit with the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy often singled out for heavy criticism by industry figures.
Mr Tait once again reiterated his belief that the UK’s fisheries industry will be healthier once the country takes back control of its own fishing grounds.
He said: “We are sick and tired of the political horse-trading over fishing opportunities that goes on every year. This has nothing to do with proper fisheries management. We need to get out of the Common Fisheries Policy on Brexit day one and start making sensible decisions as soon as we can.
“The day cannot come soon enough when the UK can assert control over its waters and negotiate as an independent coastal state from a position of strength.”
Overall the Scottish quota’s value rose to around £442 million, with sizable increases in quotas for North sea cod (10 per cent), haddock (24 per cent) and whiting (38 per cent).
This left Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong “broadly satisfied” with the negotiations, though he took the opportunity of the December Fisheries Council to caution other EU countries against trying to block the UK taking back control of its fishing grounds in the Brexit negotiations.
He said: “There are fewer than 500 days until the UK leaves the European Union, and while we are broadly satisfied by the outcome of the December Fisheries Council, there are strong signs that countries both with and without fishing interests are adopting very entrenched views.
“We were heartened to see UK and Scottish fisheries ministers George Eustice and Fergus Ewing and their tireless officials working together throughout the night to secure the best deal for our fishermen.”
Taking a hardline stance will not help as we move to the situation where international negotiations with the UK as a coastal state determine outcome BERTIE ARMSTRONG
Mr Armstrong added: “Looking to the future, international law is abundantly clear that upon exit, control over the UK exclusive economic zone (EEZ) will revert to the UK governments.
“That will allow the UK to decide for our own waters who gets to catch what, where and when. But it doesn’t mean we won’t be willing to negotiate access. The difference is that will be on our terms.
“Taking a hardline stance will not help as we move to the situation where international negotiations with the UK as a coastal state determine outcomes.”
If the government’s Brexit timetable goes to plan this will be the second last December Fisheries Council to feature the UK as a member of the EU.
Mike Park, chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association, echoed the warning sounded by Mr Armstrong and raised concerns about the antipathy shown to British fisheries ministers by representatives of other member states and what this attitude may mean for negotiations post-Brexit.
He said: “If this was a prelude for the final round of fisheries negotiations next year before the UK leaves the European Union, it does not bode well.
“The other countries are going to have to come to the table with their sensible hats on, rather than insisting that the UK will not get a kilo of the fish that it is legally entitled to take control of outside the CFP.
“We understand their concerns, but taking a hardline stance is the wrong way to go, especially when we have made it clear that while restoring control we are content to open negotiations on access.”
The Scottish government’s fisheries minister Fergus Ewing meanwhile welcomed a “strong result” for Scottish fishermen.
He said: “At these challenging negotiations we have secured a strong result for Scotland’s fishermen, with deals worth more than £440 million to the industry and crucial increases for many of our key species. Compared to 2017 this is an extra £44 million of fishing opportunities which means our industry will go into 2018 in strong health.
Mr Ewing added: “Brexit has loomed large over this year’s negotiations. Now that these deals have been confirmed we will continue to seek real assurances from the UK government that they will not trade access to Scottish waters away to secure other interests in the Brexit negotiations.
“We cannot and will not accept Scottish fishing interests being put at risk.”