SNP constituency candidate for Shetland at the forthcoming elections to the Scottish Parliament Tom Wills has called for fisheries protection in Scottish waters to be modernised and improved.
Wills was speaking after local fishermen vented their anger that the German-registered gill netter Pesorsa Dos has again been fishing in waters to the west of Shetland.
The 46 metre Spanish-owned vessel was at the centre of a confrontation on the high seas last June when she was filmed allegedly trying to foul the propeller of local whitefish trawler Alison Kay in an ongoing dispute over access to these rich fishing grounds.
“It is galling to see this vessel back in local waters after the shocking incident last year,” Wills said.
“Like many locals, I find it hard to understand why our own authorities did not pursue the Alison Kay case more actively, when the Irish authorities detained the Pesorsa Dos for what sounds like a less serious matter.”
At the time UK authorities such as Marine Scotland and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said they were unable to investigate the incident, which took place in EU waters 30 miles off Shetland. The German authorities eventually decided there was no case to answer.
What has changed since then is that although the Pesorsa Dos and other gill netters continue to fish legally in the waters to the west of Shetland, these are now UK waters, and if a similar incident would happen again it would, presumably, fall under UK legislation.
Chief officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association Simon Collins said return of the Pesorsa Dos was a stark reminder that she had never been prosecuted for last year’s incident.
And he said: “She is fishing out there legally, and if she would be inspected and everything is fine, then we would not have a leg to stand on.”
However, in an attempt to physically separate gill-netters from local whitefish trawlers Marine Scotland has been talking to the industry to find ways for both fisheries to co-exist.
If implemented this would push the gill netters further out into deeper water and would also set rules on the size of nets that can be used and for how long these can be kept in the water.
Marine Scotland would then be able to control and enforce these new regulations. Collins said: “That’s not our members’ proposal; they just want to get rid of them.
“The general question is whether there should be any gill netters should be anywhere near Shetland; the preference for fishermen, of course, is that there shouldn’t be, and that is probably shared by Scottish fishermen.”
A government spokesman said Marine Scotland was unable to fully respond to any enquiries from news organisations during the election campaign period, and added that the agency had already published a policy intent paper in October last year that sets out its future plans.
“We will introduce revised management rules in relation to the operation of gill net and long line fisheries in our waters to better facilitate close working between static and mobile sectors. These measures will be set out in our future catching policy,” the spokesman said
Wills, meanwhile, said he had every sympathy with local fishermen who have complained for many years that they are getting a harder time from Marine Scotland enforcement officers than their foreign colleagues fishing the same waters.
He called on Marine Scotland to open up and engage more with local fishermen. “Fisheries protection needs modernised and beefed up,” he said.
“Every fisherman I speak to tells me that our boats get a harder time in foreign waters, than foreign boats do in our waters. Marine Scotland have got some explaining to do here.”
He added: “The spectacle of gill nets deployed from off Fair Isle all the way round to north of the Flugga for days on end – or months and years of ghost fishing when nets are discarded – is a grim one.
“There are few quick fixes but we could start by increasing monitoring and enforcement of unsustainable practices.”
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