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Row opens up over unsellable fish

Haddock landed at Lerwick fish market.

SHETLAND’S fishing leaders have warned the Scottish government will be breaking the law if they do not help fishermen dispose of unsellable whitefish when the new discard ban becomes law next year.

On Thursday Scottish Tory MEP Ian Duncan demanded “an urgent explanation” from Marine Scotland after Shetland Fishermen’s Association told him the government was shirking its legal responsibilities.

The government has admitted it has a duty to get rid of unwanted fish landed under the discards ban, but has yet to explain how this will happen.

Scottish Tory MEP Ian Duncan

The controversial ban was introduced this year for pelagic vessels, but the biggest concerns surround its introduction next January for the whitefish sector.

Fishing leaders warned for years about the complex problems involved in imposing such a sweeping measure, that was drawn up on the back of lobbying by the likes of celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

“The old law said you had to discard fish and the new law says you have to bring it ashore,” Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Simon Collins said.

“The whole management system is in turmoil. At the moment the entire industry is being opened up to something the government said it wanted but are now saying they won’t take responsibility for.”

After problems in the law change became clearer, the European Parliament voted through amendments forcing member states to deal with unsellable fish landed on the quayside.

The Scottish government says it is “working hard” to cut down the amount of unwanted fish in any catch, looking at alternative disposal options like fishmeal or bait, and hoping to develop new markets for less popular species that will have to be landed under the new laws.

It adds that it is “developing mechanisms” to make sure financial support is made available for dealing with unwanted landings.

However Collins retorted: “The government are still not grasping the central point, which is that if unwanted fish is landed and it can’t be sold then they have to step in.”

Duncan, a former Scottish Fishermen’s Federation secretary, went further. Describing the situation as “exceptionally serious”, he claimed the government could end up being fined for breaking European law.

“Fishermen should be supported through the discard ban, not told by a governmental agency to sort it out themselves,” he said.

“I have written to (fisheries secretary) Richard Lochhead and Marine Scotland demanding an urgent explanation. I will not see fishermen once again left in no-mans land through incompetence or lack of interest.”