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‘Days-at-sea’ cut to 90 days

THE SHETLAND fishing fleet has been dealt another blow at the end of year European fisheries council, although the worst case scenario was averted.

It took until 4am on Saturday morning to reach a deal on fishing opportunities for 2012.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation described the outcome as “a bitter blow” while the Scottish government said it had achieved a “mixed bag” with some big increases for west coast haddock (up 200 per cent) and North Sea herring (up 94 per cent).

The chairman of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA), Leslie Tait, said the way these negotiations were conducted each year “were bordering on the ridiculous”.

The total allowable catch (TAC) for North Sea whiting have been increased by 15 per cent, as has been for North Sea haddock. Cod is down one per cent. (All these TACs were already agreed at the EU/Norway negotiations on shared stocks). North Sea and west coast monkfish quotas are down five per cent.

However, the main feature of this year’s deal is the further reduction in ‘Days-at-Sea’ allocation (the time fishermen can go out catching their quota) of between 15 and 25 per cent under the cod recovery programme (CRP).

Initially, the Scottish fleet had been alleged to have overfished its allocated quota under the plan and faced stiff penalties, but those proposals were dropped by the European Commission.

Instead, the industry has now to cope with a further reduction in ‘Days-at-Sea’ of between 15 and 25 per cent for whitefish and prawn vessels, which equates to around four days fishing every fortnight.

Speaking from Aberdeen airport on his way home from Brussels, Mr Tait said he couldn’t be too specific in analysing the consequences of the quota deal since some of the finer detail was still unknown.

But the reduction in days at sea means that local whitefish boat will only be allowed to fish on 90 days during 2012.

“The whole thing is just ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. They can’t run a fishery like that at all,” Mr Tait said.

Lost days can however be reinstated for vessels that adopt cod avoidance measures – an arrangement that can continue following the commission’s acceptance of the UK delegation’s interpretation of the CRP.

SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong, chief executive said: “This is a bitter blow for our fishing fleet, which is now going to struggle to maintain economic viability under the impact of these totally unwarranted cuts.

“Effort control is fundamentally flawed as a fisheries management measure and the EC has totally ignored the real progress in stock conservation that has been developed by Scotland in recent years.

“The current regime of an annual two day process to decide upon measures that affect many thousands of fishermen and businesses is a ludicrous way to manage our valuable fisheries. 

“The top priority of the Scottish and UK governments of providing a freeze in ‘Days-at-Sea’ has simply failed.  The industry now has a mountain to climb.”

Fishing secretary Richard Lochhead added: “These have been the toughest of negotiations that have delivered both significant gains but also huge frustrations.

“We are very disappointed that despite the call from many member states for a pause in the annual cut in days at sea for vessels that fish in the Cod Recovery Zone, Europe pressed ahead.

“It is also very disappointing the CFP has yet again delivered such a chaotic and confusing set of negotiations. 

“The Commission themselves have admitted that the CFP including the Cod Recovery Plan isn’t working with the lawyers running the show to the detriment of conservation and the fishing industry.  Next year’s reform of the Common Fisheries Policy cannot arrive soon enough.”