CAB - 7 Oct 2020 - 10 Oct 2020 - Advice

Marine / Resolving the Spanish gill netting issue likely to be ‘one of the immediate wins of Brexit’

FISHERMEN have again vented their anger and frustration over the ongoing and unresolved issue of Spanish gill netters taking over fishing grounds to the northwest of Shetland.

A screenshot the shows the extent of gill netting to the northwest of Shetland.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief officer Simon Collins said the topic would be one of the first to be negotiated once the UK has become an independent coastal state.

That is set to happen on 31 December this year but in light of the current Covid-19 crisis it depends on whether the UK seeks an extension to the current transition period.

Collins said the conflict is nothing new and happens every year. However, with the Scottish white fish fleet reducing its fishing effort to protect prices, Spanish vessels are accused of having moved in big style.

“We feel that the Spanish vessels have taken advantage of this, have moved in and occupy more than they would otherwise be able to do,” Collins said.

He said those vessels’ gill nets were covering up to 300 square miles of seabed per vessel and were making it completely impossible for local vessels to fish their home grounds.

And there is particular anger and grief around Shetland since this conduct is perfectly legal under EU law, which has been rolled over into UK law as part of the Brexit process.

Changing this behaviour would be “one of the immediate wins of Brexit”, Collins said.

“If we are able to leave the transition period by the end of this year, the UK and the Scottish governments will have the powers to do something about it, and they are on board to do that,” he said.

This could include a stricter licensing system for Spanish vessels wanting to fish in UK waters such as fewer vessels, reciprocal deals to allow UK vessels to fish off the Spanish coast, as well as limitations to equipment and fishing times.

“We very much object not only to this occupation of fishing grounds, which would not be tolerated if we would do the same thing off the Spanish coast, but it is also the aggressive nature with which some of these vessels occupy the grounds and will try bully us off it,” Collins said.

“We are only eight months – hopefully – away from being able to resolve this in an amicable and reasonable way.

“It seems astonishing that these vessels take advantage of a slightly reduced presence on our grounds, a very short sighted thing to do, and not helpful at all.”