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Fury at Faroe fishing inside Shetland limit

The Faroese supertrawler Kristian I Grotinum detained in Lerwick harbour last November after her skipper was arrested and appeared in Lerwick Sheriff Court charged with breaching fishing regulations. Photo Ian Leask

SHETLAND fishermen are once again demanding the Scottish government step up their game to stop Faroese trawlers fishing for valuable mackerel inside the islands’ 12-mile limit.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) has called on Marine Scotland to enforce the rules fairly about foreign vessels fishing in local waters after a Faroese boat was seen catching fish inside the exclusion zone on Thursday.

However the government has defended its approach to illegal fishing and says it was already investigating Thursday’s incident before it had been reported by the Shetland fisherman.

The latest incident follows identical demands made last year, when local fishermen accused Scottish fisheries protection vessels of running for cover in poor weather making it easy for Faroese fishermen to catch mackerel illegally and head for home.

SFA executive officer Simon Collins said: “It would be outrageous if Faroese boats were catching fish within our 12-mile limit and not being held to account.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman responded: “Marine Scotland closely and robustly monitors this fishery to ensure compliance and any boat, of any nationality, found to be breaking the rules could face  criminal prosecution and fines of up to £50,000 plus the value of any illegal catch.

“The alleged incursion by a Faroese vessel was already known to Marine Scotland before it was reported by a Shetland fisherman on Thursday. We are unable to comment further whilst the investigation is ongoing.”

Local fishermen are still angry about the two year old deal that allowed Faroe to catch mackerel in European Union waters.

The deal followed a lengthy battle with the Scandinavian island state which saw it unilaterally increase its mackerel quota 10 fold from 15,000 tonnes in 2009 to 150,000 tonnes in 2014.

The Faroese argued that mackerel were spending more time in their waters due to climate change affecting fish migration patterns.

Faroese fishing minister Jacob Vestergaard

However the SFA say that the amount of fish caught in Faroese waters slumped from just over 35,000 in 2013 to 7,900 tonnes last year.

Meanwhile the new EU deal allows Faroese trawlers to catch more than 46,000 tonnes in the North Sea and Kattegat – the sea area between Denmark and Sweden, up from just 376 tonnes two years ago.

“Shetland’s fishermen remain dumfounded at the scale of the EU’s giveaway to Faroe, which of course was backed enthusiastically by both the UK and Scottish governments,” Collins said.

“We demand a fairer deal when these international agreements come up for renewal, and another look at Faroese access arrangements at the earliest opportunity.”

Last year Faroese fishing minister Jacob Vestergaard said his country’s pelagic boats had every right to catch fish off Shetland, but recognised they could not fish within the 12-mile limit.

The government spokeswoman defended last year’s mackerel agreement, which she said returned the stock towards sustainable management practices after years of dispute and overfishing.

The agreement, she said, triggered wider benefits for the Scottish fleet, including access to “significant” whitefish opportunities in Faroese waters worth around £2 million a year.

“In return, Faroese vessels are permitted to catchy 30 per cent of their mackerel quota in EU waters – almost a third less than in 2010 when the agreement was last active.”

The government also insists that local fishermen are often unaware of the steps Marine Scotland takes to monitor Scottish waters, which include surveillance aircraft, satellite monitoring and other surveillance tools as well as protection vessels.