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Brexit / ‘Why is the fishing industry having to fight their own government for survival?’

Questions emerge over the UK’s ability to police its own waters as Alistair Carmichael leads fishing debate in parliament

AS ANGER over the flawed Brexit deal grows in fishing communities up and down the country it appears that far from ‘taking back control’, the UK has no powers to police its own waters.

The fishing industry is seeking urgent clarification from government in the light of growing evidence that local vessels are being prevented from fishing traditional grounds by foreign owned and crewed fishing vessels.

The issue was raised by Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael during a fishing debate in parliament on Tuesday morning.

The Orkney and Shetland MP told UK fishing minister Victoria Prentis that he had urged her to give powers to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to police the waters out to the 200-mile limit at the time the post Brexit fisheries bill was passing through parliament last autumn.

Last month, local fisherman Ross David Robertson shared a video how he and his crew on board the Mizpah were confronted by the longliner Genesis FD19 while fishing to the northwest of Unst.

It appears that following Brexit, and in particular the way the trade deal was agreed in great hurry by Christmas Eve last year, the UK has not taken power over its own waters out to the 200-mile limit.

Carmichael said: “All we get, whether from ministers or government agencies, is excuses for inaction.

“In the meantime the problem only seems to get worse. We have to ask – and I shall be asking – if it will take a boat going to the bottom of the sea before those responsible in government will take notice and take action.”

The executive officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association Simon Collins added: “It would clearly be unacceptable for the UK to be unable to act in its own waters against vessels operating recklessly and with danger to life, and we do not believe that other coastal states would be powerless to act in similar circumstances in their own waters.

“If it turns out that the MCA lacks the powers it needs to ensure orderly operations at sea, then clearly that has to be fixed as a matter of urgency.”

Asked to clarify the MCA powers, a spokesman for the government agency told Shetland News: “The MCA has powers to enforce regulations on vessels which are registered in the UK wherever they may be in the world.

“These same powers extend to foreign registered vessels whilst they are within territorial seas [the 12-mile limit], with the exception of environmental regulations which apply up to 200 miles (the Exclusive Economic Zone).

“These requirements come from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and are transcribed into UK legislation. Other government departments have powers to apply their regulations up to 200 miles.”

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael: ‘We have to ask if it will take a boat going to the bottom of the sea before those responsible in government will take notice and take action.’ Photo: Shetland News

During the fisheries debate, the Northern Isles MP spoke up for the industry which had responded in great numbers to his call for evidence.

Carmichael said: “The deal struck by the Prime Minister on Christmas Eve is not what they were promised and six months in to its first year it is causing massive problems.

“One Shetland skipper spoke for many when he wrote [to the MP]: ‘I run a small wooden 22 metre trawler around Shetland, we have a ridiculously small cod quota and we find it impossible to avoid cod, there is more cod around Shetland right now than anytime in living memory but our quota is minuscule.

‘It has been said by skippers recently that you can catch your years quota in one day! There are also plans to cut the cod further in 2022, so it begs the question why are we still using the broken quota system the EU put in place now that we are an independent coastal state?’”

Meanwhile, Magnus, a 19-year-old fisherman from Whalsay asked: “Why is the fishing industry having to fight their own government for survival?

“Why do their advisory boards have no qualified fishermen or ex fishermen or fish processors advising them? Why are they allowing uncontrolled fishing by foreign vessels in our waters?”