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Island move to protect fishing communities

The joint call to protect the island based fishing industry was made by the Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles fisheries associations - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNews

FISHING leaders in the three Scottish island communities of Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles have joined forces in a bid to secure a future for their communities.

They are seeking a meeting with transport and islands minister Derek Mackay to present recommendations they feel are crucial to the survival of the islands-based fishing industry.

The move follows the example of the Our Islands Our Future initiative, which is seeking for more political decision-making powers to be devolved to the islands.

Fishing runs through the lifeblood of island communities.

It comes on the same day scientists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) raised hopes for higher quotas next year after indicating that vital fish stocks were in good shape.

Commercial fishing is economically and culturally vital to island communities with around a quarter of the industry based in Shetland, Orkney and the western isles.

Secretary of the Orkney Fisheries Association, Fiona Matheson, said: “As everyone in the islands knows, fishing is an absolutely essential part of economic life and it’s time this was reflected in devolved powers for the industry.

“There is all-party support for such devolution to the islands and the three island groups have come forward with ten very practical, sensible recommendations for fisheries which we hope the minister and his colleagues in government will take very seriously.”

These are:

  • Recognition of the islands’ traditional fishing rights and access to fishing grounds;
  • Designation of the islands as “small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing” as set out in the reformed Common Fisheries Policy;
  • Provision for an “opt-out” for locally-based vessels from fisheries regulations and management powers devolved to the Scottish Government, e.g. the proposed new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs);
  • A fair allocation of EU fisheries grants that reflects the islands’ importance to Scottish fisheries;
  • Control over Seafish levy receipts from the islands;
  • A meaningful say in the specifications for ferry contracts between the islands and the mainland and over which operator is chosen;
  • Allowing the islands to alter local fisheries and environmental management boundaries out to their 12-mile limit, if they so wish;
  • Derogations from EU rules on new vessel builds and improvements, state aid and shellfish toxin testing;
  • More stringent protection against marine pollution;
  • A presumption in favour of local employment in island planning applications for new aquaculture developments.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins said the initiative was aimed at protecting island communities’ traditional rights.

He added: “Fishing runs through the lifeblood of these communities and has done for thousands of years, but government action – and sometimes inaction – can have a disproportionate effect.

“We are looking to insulate the islands from what can very often be unintended consequences.”

Meanwhile, industry leaders welcomed news that key North Sea and West Coast stocks, such as haddock, cod and plaice, were all in good shape.

But chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, Bertie Armstrong, however voiced a word of caution, as the phasing in of the discard ban in 2016 was likely to introduce new uncertainties.

“This most recent advice from ICES highlights how the strenuous efforts of our fishermen through a large variety of conservation measures is helping ensure that the majority of our fish stocks are healthy and moving in the right direction.

“However, 2016 is a pivotal year for the Scottish fleet, given that the discard ban for demersal fishers will start to be phased in, which in itself will create a whole new set of challenges for the industry.

“It is imperative that the Scottish Government works closely with the fishing industry to maximise fishing opportunities for 2016 to help ensure the discard ban does not unduly impact upon fleet viability,” he said.

Fisheries minister Richard Lochhead said: “As ever, today’s advice from ICES shows a mixed picture for our fishing industry, but it is certainly encouraging that increases have been advised for some of our most valuable stocks particularly haddock which is up by at least 30 per cent, North Sea cod which is increased by up to 15 per cent and plaice which is up by at least 15 per cent compared to last year.

“These figures confirm we are moving in the right direction and will be welcome news for the fishing industry.

“Our fishermen deserve immense credit for their part in the emerging recovery of the cod stock and I would like to thank them for their continued commitment to sustainable fishing.”