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Tait fuming with ‘absurd’ cut in mackerel quota

Leslie Tait of Shetland Fishermen's Association.

SHETLAND Fishermen’s Association has hit out at European fisheries ministers for rubber-stamping an “absurd” cut in mackerel quota – with chairman Leslie Tait saying it was further evidence of the need to “get out of the Common Fisheries Policy on Brexit day one”.

Tait said that, while the deal struck at the December Fisheries Council was “fairly positive” for the whitefish fleet, the pelagic sector’s mackerel quota had been hit in a manner that demonstrated “the worst of EU fisheries management”.

There has been a 20 per cent decrease in quota for Atlantic mackerel, meaning the Scottish fleet’s potential quota value for 2018 will be around £128 million – a £32 million drop on this year.

But overall the Scottish quota’s value is an estimated £442 million (broken down into £165 million for whitefish, £193 million for pelagic and £384 million for shellfish stocks). That is a rise in overall quota worth an estimated £43.6 million to the Scottish fleet in 2018.

North Sea cod and haddock quotas – with both species now Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) accredited – have risen by 10 per cent and 23 per cent respectively, while monkfish quotas are up 20 per cent.

Tait said fishermen were looking forward to the day when the UK took control of its own waters.

The catching sector of the fishing industry has been among the strongest advocates of Brexit in recent years – though others have expressed reservations about what leaving the EU will mean for fish processors and the ability to export seafood.

Tait said: “We are sick and tired of the political horse-trading over fishing opportunities that goes on every year.

“This has nothing to do with proper fisheries management. We need to get out of the Common Fisheries Policy on Brexit day one and start making sensible decisions as soon as we can.

“The day cannot come soon enough when the UK can assert control over its waters and negotiate as an independent coastal state from a position of strength.”

Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said the federation was “broadly satisfied” with the outcome of the annual fisheries council, but warned EU states not to take a “hardline” position on post-Brexit negotiations.

Assuming the Brexit timetable goes ahead as planned, this will be the second last round of annual talks on catching allocations including the UK as an EU state.

Armstrong said: “We were heartened to see UK and Scottish fisheries ministers George Eustice and Fergus Ewing and their tireless officials working together throughout the night to secure the best deal for our fishermen.

“Looking to the future, international law is abundantly clear that upon exit, control over the UK exclusive economic zone (EEZ) will revert to the UK governments.

“That will allow the UK to decide for our own waters who gets to catch what, where and when. But it doesn’t mean we won’t be willing to negotiate access. The difference is that will be on our terms.

“Taking a hardline stance will not help as we move to the situation where international negotiations with the UK as a coastal state determine outcomes. It is also in stark contrast to the reasonable and responsible approach taken by the UK industry.”

Whitefish organisation SWFPA’s chief executive Mike Park said the outcome was “broadly fair” but said he was concerned about “antipathy” towards ministers and officials from other member states and the European Commission.

“If this was a prelude for the final round of fisheries negotiations next year before the UK leaves the European Union, it does not bode well,” Park said.

“The other countries are going to have to come to the table with their sensible hats on, rather than insisting that the UK will not get a kilo of the fish that it is legally entitled to take control of outside the CFP.”

Ewing said the “challenging negotiations” had secured a “strong result for Scottish fishermen” providing “an extra £44 million of fishing opportunities which “means our industry will go into 2018 in strong health”, though he noted some disappointments for the west of Scotland industry.

“Brexit has loomed large over this year’s negotiations,” he said. “Now that these deals have been confirmed we will continue to seek real assurances from the UK Government that they will not trade access to Scottish waters away to secure other interests in the Brexit negotiations. We cannot and will not accept Scottish fishing interests being put at risk.”