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Quota increases for key fish stocks

FISHERMEN leaders have largely welcomed the catching opportunities for next year as decided by the EU Fisheries Council in the early hours of Wednesday.

North Sea cod and whiting quotas will go up by 17 per cent, the valuable monkfish quota has been increased by 20 per cent and hake is up by 12 per cent.

However, North Sea haddock is down by 46 per cent to account for a previous assessment error, while herring has dropped by seven per cent.

The Scottish Government said the agreement, which saw quotas rise for 16 out of 23 key stocks across Scotland, amounted to a £47 million boost to the industry.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association chairman Leslie Tait welcomed the quota increases and in particular the rise in cod catches, which will be subject to the controversial discard ban from 1 January.

“The major demersal stocks are in very good health – and that’s largely due to the efforts and sacrifices of fishermen stretching back a decade and more,” he said.

“The unfortunate error in the haddock science does not give fishermen any feeling of security when planning their business for the future with huge fluctuations of quota from year to year.”

Tait said it remained unclear how the discard ban, which already applies to haddock, will work with a greater number of species.

He said: “We’re staggered that the EU is still pressing on with a discard ban that it knows full well to be unworkable. Brussels is still living in its own land of make-believe.

“We look forward to a time when we can regain control of our fisheries management regime and make sure it is sensible and practical.”

Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association chief executive Mike Park said the quota changes were a “mixed but positive bag”.

He said it was “hugely important” that cod quotas were increased ahead of the discard ban.

However, Park criticised the reduction in haddock quotas and questioned the previous error in scientific assessment.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, added that the agreement should provide “economic stability” to fishing communities.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott echoed concerns about the discard ban, which means all catch must be landed and counted against the quota, instead of some fish being discarded.

“The quota increases are good news for boats, salespeople and processors. It has taken some time for the science to catch up with the reality of the abundant fish that are in our local waters. So the government do need to work on fisheries science being as up-to-date as possible,” he said.

“The greatest challenge for 2017 is the discard ban. Increased quota may help but Shetland’s primary catches will have to be carefully monitored to avoid any possibility of our boats being forced to tie-up because a specific quota is finished through the year.

“That was the warning I gave the fisheries minister Fergus Ewing in the Holyrood debate last week. A discard ban in a mixed whitefish fishery cannot work. There will always be problems.”

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