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Councillor challenges Marine Scotland on fishing boat inspections

Eighty five per cent of all at sea inspections are carried out on UK fishing vessels.

A Faroese vessel being inspected off Compass Head about two years ago - Photo: Ronnie Robertson
A Faroese vessel is being inspected by a Marine Scotland patrol boat off Compass Head. Photo: Ronnie Robertson

A COUNCILLOR representing one of the largest fishing communities in the country has challenged Marine Scotland over the seemingly “disproportionally” high number of UK vessels intercepted by the fisheries protection agency.

Duncan Simpson, who is a member for the north isles at Shetland Islands Council, said local fishermen have felt harassed by officers from Marine Scotland for a long time.

He has written an open letter to Marine Scotland director Graham Black seeking an explanation after a response to a Freedom of Information request appears to prove that UK vessels are inspected disproportionally often.

The full table released by Marine Scotland under FOI legislation.

A table released to him by the agency shows that in 2018 (data up until 14 November) UK vessels were boarded at sea by Marine Scotland on 478 occasions representing almost 85 per cent of all such checks.

In comparison 62 EU vessels (11 per cent) and 24 (4.25 per cent) 3rdcountry vessels were boarded during the same period.

The figures for 2017 are similar with 79 per cent UK vessels, 15 per cent EU vessels and just under six per cent vessel from 3rdcountries.

When comparing the figures for boarding vessels in port, the statistics show that 990 fishing boats or 77.8 per cent of the total of vessels boarded were from the UK.

And of all the catches inspected at fish markets 99 per cent were from UK vessels.

North isles councillor Duncan Simpson. Photo: Shetland News

Simpson said that when considering that EU vessels are allocated around 60 per cent of fish caught in British waters, the inspection figures provided by the agency appear not to reflect that fact.

“Whilst I would not expect this to directly translate into 60 per cent of inspections etc, it does appear that there is a large discrepancy in the figures your agency have provided. Can you provide reasons for this?” the Whalsay based councillor wrote.

“As a representative of a fishing community I believe it is in the public interest for these questions to be answered.

“Marine Scotland’s stated purpose is to ‘manage Scotland’s seas for prosperity and environmental sustainability’. Surely this vital task can only be carried out effectively if the rule of law is applied to all vessels evenly, regardless of nationality or country of origin.”

Marine Scotland has been asked for a comment to councillor Simpson’s challenge but has so far not responded.