MARINE Scotland has committed to regularly publishing figures detailing the number of inspections of fishing vessels carried out by the government agency in the seas around the country.
The commitment was made by the newly appointed cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the islands Mairi Gougeon during a visit to Shetland on Wednesday.
For many years local fishermen have felt unfairly targeted by the fisheries protection agency, claiming that foreign owned vessels fishing in UK waters get away too lightly.
Only last week Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins called on the Scottish Government to publish all available boarding data.
Gougeon also committed to working to find a way of dealing with the increasing number of confrontations between mainly Spanish and French gill netters and local white trawlers fishing the same grounds around Shetland.
Fishermen have bitterly complained saying they are being forced off their traditional fishing grounds, and the issue was also aired in the House of Commons earlier this week where isles MP Alistair Carmichael led a fisheries debate.
Gougeon, appointed to the post following the Scottish Government’s re-election in May, is in Shetland on a busy three-day visit meeting with a wide range of representatives from the various industries under her brief.
Speaking to Shetland News on Wednesday afternoon, she said a Freedom of Information request clearly shows that – proportionally – more non-UK vessels are being boarded than UK ones. This is being disputed by local fishermen and opposition politicians.
“I have just come from a meeting with the fishermen’s association, where I was hearing from someone’s concern directly, and again all I can do is give the information that I have and that has been made publicly available.
“I also want to make sure that we are absolutely transparent with this and that’s why we will proactively be publishing this information quarterly to show exactly what activity is taking place.
“It is really important that we are transparent, I want people to have faith in the work that Marine Scotland do, and the Scottish Government do, and the only way that we can build that trust is being open and transparent about the work we do.”
She added that publishing the information on vessel inspections would “hopefully help create that trust”.
Gougeon said Marine Scotland had no remit in dealing with potentially criminal acts committed offshore.
“With regards to the conflicts; these are serious issues and I want to make sure that we try and tackle these as best we can, but of course there is a very different mix of roles and responsibilities in that,” she said.
“Marine Scotland is mainly there for the fisheries type offences, they can’t deal with any criminal acts or conflicts of that nature, that is the responsibility of the MCA.
“It is important that we are made aware of any incident, there have been occasions where Marine Scotland have been the closest to it and they have gone and try to calm things down, although they are not directly responsible or can take any action necessarily, but they pass on that information to the MCA [Maritime and Coastguard Agency].
“Beyond that it is up to the MCA to decide who should be pursuing that with other nations.
“It is something I want to get to the bottom of after hearing about the seriousness of the situation that fishermen had to deal with, and even although not all the powers rest with us I think we should try to find some sort of solution as best we can.”
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