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Marine / MCA to take no action over fishing vessel clash

Skipper says netters are blocking off huge area of sea

The Pesorsa Dos came within metres of the whitefish trawler Alison Kay during a confrontation in June this year.

THE MARITIME and Coastguard Agency says it is powerless to act over an incident when a German registered fishing boat appeared to try and snag the propeller of a local trawler.

Shetland News reported on the confrontation between the Alison Kay and the Spanish netter Pesorsa Dos on Friday with the netter apparently trying to foul the trawler’s prop with a line.

But the MCA, whose own published responsibilities include “the safety of everybody in a vessel in UK waters” says it cannot act against a foreign flagged vessel if the incident took place outside the 12-mile limit.

A statement from the MCA said: “The video of this incident is concerning and the consequences could have been extremely serious. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency will take robust action against any vessel within its jurisdiction that endangers themselves or any other vessel.

“This incident took place 30 nautical miles west of the Shetland Isles and was therefore outside of the 12 mile jurisdictional limit in which the MCA can take action against foreign flagged vessels.

“The investigation is therefore the responsibility of the flag state. The MCA’s maritime investigations team has already sent a letter to the German Maritime Administration to raise its concerns.”

Meanwhile, a skipper on the Burra whitefish trawler Opportune says local boats are being kept out of an area of seabed nearly the size of Shetland by the operations of aggressive, gill-netting flagships.

According to Tom Robertson the gill-netters, which are Spanish or French owned but operate under UK or other EU flags, have shut off about 400 square miles of seabed – an area equal to 200,000 football pitches.

The boats typically shoot 10 strings of five-mile long nets and according to Robertson are requesting trawlers keep a mile clear either side of the net, in the grounds mainly to the north and west of Shetland.

Speaking to Shetland News on Wednesday he said: “There are currently four netters working on bottom which has been fished by our local fleet year on year until now

“Each vessel works at least 50 miles of nets. A total of 200 miles of nets are there and given the clearance they request us to give it takes up 400 square miles which is the equivalent of 200,000 football pitches.

These vessels are violent and aggressive when we come anywhere near where they are working.

“We are being bombed out of or local fishing grounds by Spanish and French. The areas are so vast and before long we will have nowhere else left to fish.”

“It’s unbelievable. It’s all over the grounds we have fished for years and now we can’t get near without a violent confrontation.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said that the matter was an MCA responsibility.

He added: “Any behaviour that risks fishermen’s lives and the safety of vessels is wholly unacceptable. We would urge people to behave sensibly and respectfully towards fellow fishermen and indeed, all marine users. We would call for calm when any incidents arise.”

“This is a matter for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to oversee and we urge them to act.

“We will seek to introduce measures that would apply to all vessels regardless of nationality and method when working in our waters post-Brexit.”