NORTHERN Isles MP Alistair Carmichael is hoping to introduce an amendment to the post Brexit Fisheries Bill with the aim of giving the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) powers to investigate breaches of safe practices at sea outwith the 12-mile boundary.
The Shetland and Orkney MP’s move comes after several such alleged breaches occurring in the waters to the west of Shetland and, although reported to the authorities, they were never investigated and always left as “somebody else’s problem”.
“I want to bring forward an amendment that would make clear that the MCA not just has the right but the responsibility to police safe practices for all those fishing within the UK territorial waters,” Carmichael said.
In June this year, the crew of the local trawler Alison Kay posted video footage of a confrontation with the German registered fishing boat Pesorsa Dos in which the crew of the Spanish owned gill netter allegedly tried to run a rope through the Alison Kay’s propeller, 30 miles west of Shetland.
At the time the incident was reported to Marine Scotland, the MCA as well as the German authorities.
However, because the incident was not deemed a fishery offence but one that had the potential to endanger the lives and safety of fishermen, Marine Scotland had no powers to act.
Scottish fisheries secretary Fergus Ewing said in response to a parliament question that the government agency had sent one of its patrol vessels to diffuse the incident.
Safety at sea is one of the roles of the MCA but the agency’s enforcement powers do not go beyond the 12-mile limit.
Both the MCA and the German Federal Bureau for Maritime Casualty Investigation described the evidence circulated as “dangerous” and said it “could have had serious consequences”.
The German police, meanwhile, are quoted as saying that there was no suspicion of a criminal offence under German law.
Carmichael said the fisheries bill was the appropriate mechanism to ensure fishermen were protected.
“There is a vacuum at the moment, and after the 31 December [the end of the Brexit transition period] there will be absolutely no excuse for not filling it,” he said.
The fisheries bill, which had its second reading in parliament last week, will set the framework as to how fisheries will be managed within the four nations once the UK has left the EU.
“It is about intelligent government and about designing a system that meets the needs of the people that are going to be served by it,” he added.
Executive officer with the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, Simon Collins, welcomed the move to close the safety gap at sea, adding that there had been ”a lot of close shaves” over the years.
And he remained relaxed as to the sabre rattling over the ongoing Brexit talks.
Should no fisheries agreement be reached with the EU, then access for EU vessels to UK waters need to be negotiated on an annual basis in the same way the EU and Norway have been conducting such talks for the last decades.
Fisheries delegations are already preparing for such talks later in October when the UK will be participating for the first time as an independent coastal state in what used to be the EU-Norway talks.
Fishing representative bodies have been adamant over recent days that such talks would not be designed to exclude EU vessels from the UK’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but at setting different quotes.
Chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation Elspeth Macdonald said: “Evidently, it would be preferable if the right deal could be agreed, meeting the industry’s objective of control of access to fish in the UK EEZ and fairer quota shares based on zonal attachment, but if an acceptable deal cannot be reached then the catching sector would prefer these issues to be addressed through the annual negotiations process.
“That does not mean denying EU vessels access to fish in the UK exclusive economic zone. Rather, that such access would be negotiated annually – as is the norm for the EU and Norway and other non-EU fishing nations.”
Meanwhile, Marine Scotland is beefing up its surveillance capabilities in preparation for Brexit.
According to Scottish fisheries minister Fergus Ewing, the government agency is taking “robust yet proportionate measures to maintain and enhance our marine compliance capabilities”.
Being asked by Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart to explain what that exactly means, the fisheries minister responded to the Lib Dem MSP in a parliamentary answer:
“Despite the very significant uncertainty that Brexit creates, the Scottish Government has taken a range of measures to protect our marine assets.
“This has not only included the deployment of an additional inshore patrol craft, with plans for a second craft and increased aerial capabilities before the end of the year, but also the procurement of advanced detection and imaging assets.
“In addition, annual vessel refit and servicing programmes have been amended to ensure the availability of assets and the end of the transition period.
“All of this will significantly enhance monitoring and surveillance of the Scottish zone and help to deter illegal activity.”
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