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Fishing industry backs plan to allow quota banking

The Research, one of Shetland's pelagic fleet.

THE LOCAL fishing industry has welcomed the EU’s decision to allow part of this year’s mackerel quota to be banked to help the industry mitigate the impact of the Russian ban on food imports.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins said the proposal, discussed during a meeting between Scotland’s fishing minister Richard Lochhead and outgoing EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki in Luxembourg on Monday, sounded sensible.

The proposal is to allow up to 25 per cent of this year’s mackerel quota – already increased in the North East Atlantic from 890,000 tonnes to 1.24 million tonnes – to be banked.

It will give Shetland boats the option of leaving mackerel in the sea rather than catching the fish and then potentially seeing it go to waste.

Russia imposed a ban on imports of food from the EU during the political fallout caused by the Ukraine crisis – denying Scottish processors access to around a fifth of the international mackerel market. Last year it imported around 200 million Euros of fish from the EU.

“It’s a major market for us – it’s not the biggest market, but it’s still a major one,” Collins told BBC Radio Shetland.

“The situation with sanctions at the moment has come at an unhelpful time. Prices were not looking strong to start with; they’re even weaker now with the absence of the [Russian] market.

“Given this dispute is being resolved one way or another, hopefully to the satisfaction of all concerned, it just makes sense to hold off until the sanctions can be lifted.”

Lochhead said: “I am delighted that commissioner Damanaki recommended an increase to allow some of this year’s quota for certain stocks to be banked.

“I had previously written to the commissioner asking for an increase to be considered and the additional amount will be a significant and welcome help to Scotland’s fishing industry as they seek to mitigate the impact of the Russian ban.

“And while we may not use all the extra banking, it makes sense to give our fishermen the flexibility to leave some of the fish in the sea for another year.”

Lochhead also made the case that developing “innovative” management of fisheries will be the key to ensuring the success of the “historic” ban on discards.

The fishing minister added: “At the moment we are trying to use tools, such as single species quotas, from the 1980s to solve modern day complex 21st century issues. If we don’t take the opportunity to find solutions that are fit for this decade we’ll fail our fishermen and our stocks.

“If our fleet exhausts its lowest quota for one species, then how can it catch its other bigger quotas without discarding? That’s the question for which an answer is now a matter of urgency.”

He also called for a “level playing field” across the EU and with countries such as Norway when it comes to enforcing the discards ban.