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Mixed bag of fortunes

THE SCOTTISH fishing industry has described the 2011 agreement between the EU and Norway on shared North Sea stocks as a “mixed bag of fortunes” that will result in more difficult times ahead.

Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for cod has been slashed by a further 20 per cent with haddock, the other mainstay of the fleet, facing a reduction of five per cent. Saithe has been cut by 13 per cent.

Following tough negotiations and new scientific evidence, the quota for whiting has been increased by 15 per cent.

The TAC for herring has been increased by 21 per cent, while negotiations between the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands to agree a deal on mackerel will re-commence later this week.

Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said the simple fact that an agreement had been reached ahead of the end of the year fisheries council, in Brussels, should be regarded as good news.

Early this year Scottish boats had no access to the Norwegian sector as negotiations had not been concluded before the start of the 2010 fishing season.

He added: “Whilst there are elements of good news in this agreement, overall the situation is very grim with further cuts being imposed on a Scottish whitefish fleet that is seriously financially pressed.

“The Scottish and UK governments must do everything in their power to mitigate the extent of these cuts at the final EU Fish Council meeting coming up shortly and give our industry a fighting chance for survival.”

The Scottish government meanwhile hailed the extension of the ‘catch quota’ pilot scheme, which allows those boats to land what they catch rather than discarding unwanted fish.

This system allows them to ‘buy back’ up to 12 per cent of the reduced cod TAC, the mainstay of the Scottish fishing industry.

This year 16 Scottish whitefish boats participated in the scheme and that figures expected to double to between 35 and 40 in 2011.

Scottish fishing minister Richard Lochhead said: “Following some tough negotiations between both parties last night, it is positive that a new agreement is now in place between the EU and Norway.

“Under the deal Scotland’s catch quota scheme, whereby fishermen land everything they catch without the wasteful discards imposed on our fishermen by the EU’s flawed Common Fisheries Policy, will be extended.”

But Mr Armstrong was more cautious in his response to the ‘catch quota’ scheme as not every white fish boat and none of the prawn boats could participate.

“The catch quota system has, without doubt, potential for the future. However, it has been spun as an instant answer to discards. At this point it is not.

“It is absolutely clear from those who participated in the trials to date that unless there are changes to the present TAC and quota rules, then it will simply not work overall in either reducing discards or in improving the commercial position of the whitefish fleet.

“There is much immediate development work to be done by industry, government and the European Commission.”