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Marine / Fishing quota cuts loom as government prepares for final fisheries council

Lerwick fish market. Photo: Shetland News

CONCERNS over the prospects of heavy cuts in next year’s fishing quotas have been expressed during the fisheries debate in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

Following the conclusion of the EU-Norway talks earlier this month all eyes are now at the December EU Fisheries Council next week, possibly the last fisheries council the UK will have a vote in.

Speaking in parliament, local MSP Tavish Scott said the Shetland fishing industry has had a strong year with record whitefish landings at both the islands’ fish markets.

Yet with cuts in the North Sea cod quota of 33 per cent and 31 per cent for haddock challenging times lay ahead, the MSP said.

As a result of the cuts particularly to cod the fishing industry now warns that cod could become a ‘choke species’ meaning local vessels running the danger of being tied up once they have caught their cod quota.

“The cabinet secretary [Fergus Ewing] needs to look at any measures that can mitigate against the cod quota tying up boats to the quay. Swaps with other EU states can help,” Scott said.

“The industry has proposed technical measures. These include real time closed areas but such a measure must apply to all boats.

“Otherwise as we know, vessels from Norway and other EU states simply prosecute these areas when our boats are banned.”

Meanwhile, for the pelagic industry the EU/Norway talks produced a 20 per cent cut for mackerel and a 36 per cent reduction in the herring quota.

Scott warned that the ongoing EU/Faroe talks over access to EU waters could result in Faroese vessels being able to catch as much as 30 per cent of their quota in Shetland coastal waters, more than the local fleet.

“I am sure parliament can see how such a deal is hardly construed as fair. That must change and I would ask the cabinet secretary to keep his eye and negotiating skills focused on that to ensure an equitable outcome,” Scott urged Ewing.

“Yes, Scotland gains some demersal access in Faroese waters. But the value of that is one tenth of the pelagic gain for Faroe. That must change,” he added.

Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands Tory MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said he was optimistic about the prospects for the industry in Shetland.

“I have heard a great deal from organisations involved in the sector about how they can upscale and seize the opportunities that will become available outside of the hated Common Fisheries Policy,” Halco Johnston said.

“Some parties, including the SNP, want to take us straight back into the CFP, against the interest of Scotland’s fishing communities.

“I would call on them to listen to the representatives of the industry and back a future with Britain as an independent coastal state.”

Fisheries secretary Fergus Ewing called on the UK government to represent the interest of Scottish fishermen at the EU negotiations.

“I am disappointed at the outcome of the recently concluded EU Norway negotiations, which appear to have pushed aside the need to prioritise critical landing obligation issues of North Sea stocks, in favour of a deal that is neither fair nor acceptable to Scotland’s fishing industry,” he said.

“I’m sure my counterparts in London need no reminding that this could be the last ever council in which the UK Government has a vote.

“It’s more important than ever before to secure the best possible deal for Scotland and the UK’s fishing industry, as the outcomes could endure for some time before we are in a position to directly influence future negotiations.”