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Lochhead open to local fish management

Scottish fishing minister Richard Lochhead discussing the forthcoming discards ban with skipper of the Radiant Star and current chairman of the Shetland PO Victor Laurenson - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNews

SCOTTISH fishing minister Richard Lochhead said he is open to Shetland managing more of its fisheries locally, during a visit to the isles on Thursday.

The minister was touring the NAFC Marine Centre at Scalloway as part of the Scottish Cabinet’s visit to the isles.

Announcing a £6 million funding boost for the Scottish whitefish and prawn industry, Lochhead also held brief talks with local fishing leaders beside the Burra whitefish boat Radiant Star berthed at Scalloway harbour.

With fishermen having no choice but to regularly dump hundreds of boxes of valuable cod due to the lack of quota, the local industry has for some time voiced concern how a ban on discards will work once the reform of the Common Fishery Policy is implemented.

There was little time set aside for detailed discussion on the issue with the minister, but Brian Isbister of the Shetland Fish Producers Organisation said afterwards they awaited more detail about how the £6 million will be spent.

“We now look forward to seeing more of the detail of the funding package, particularly as it will relate to work we are undertaking in preparation for the forthcoming discard ban,” he said.

Asked if there was a case for fisheries management to be further devolved, the minister said the Shetland shellfish regulating order has shown what can be achieved by local management.

Interim NAFC Marine Centre manager Willie Shannon welcomes fishing minister Richard Lochhead on Thursday morning.

“Shetland has shown very well how decentralised fishing management can work well. The people best placed to look after their own future are the people who live here.

“I am very open to ideas from the Shetland fishing industry about how they can take more control over their own fish grounds and their inshore fishery in the future.

“There is now doubt that communities working together to regulate and manage their own fishery is the way forward just as I want to see powers to come back from Brussels to Scotland through the CFP reform.”

He added that when it came to the finer details of how a ban on discards will work in the reality of a mixed fishery, “the knowledge and expertise of local fishermen (should) be at the heart of the way forward.”

The minister said the new Scotland-wide funding package should help alleviate some of the pressure the whitefish and prawns fleets were currently experiencing.

The funding is tied to a five point action plan, which includes:

  • the establishment of a £3 million hardship fund for fishermen who may be facing exceptional stresses on their viability;
  • an invitation to vessels to trial a discard-free prawn fishery this year by fishing with gears that eliminate whitefish by-catch;
  • alternative support for vessels not joining the discard free trial, with help to develop new fishing gears and measures to achieve the discard reduction targets;
  • removing, where possible, barriers that stop fishermen diversifying into alternative sustainable fisheries;
  • measures (and potentially additional funding) to promote the seafood sector and develop a Scottish brand to support the onshore sector.

Lochhead said: “Issues such as volatile international markets and environmental factors such as a scarcity of prawns appearing on the grounds have meant many fishermen have been experiencing exceptionally tough times.

“And all this at time when regulatory changes such as the transition to discard free fisheries are just around the corner.

“The Scottish government wants to support our fishing industry and their communities as they seek to overcome short term challenges. We also want to help fishermen adapt to a future where they will no longer discard any of their catch.”