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Marine / ‘Boris, where’s your Russian sanctions?’ asks Altaire first mate

THE FIRST mate of local pelagic trawler Altaire has written to prime minister Boris Johnson urging the UK Government to act over Russian factory ships fishing for blue whiting in UK waters around 100 miles to the west of Shetland.

Colin Leask said there were 11 Russian vessels presently in the UK’s shared zone with the Faroe Islands fishing for a “ridiculously inflated” quota of 75,000 tonnes of blue whiting.

The crewman’s appeal is the latest attempt by the industry to get the government to close a loophole that enables Russian vessels to fish inside UK waters at a time of “supposedly strict sanctions” against the country in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Leask wrote: “With Russia still carrying out horrific atrocities against the Ukrainian people on a daily basis, and with the EU and UK supposedly having strict sanctions set in place against Russia, how are 11 Russian factory ships allowed to openly fish in UK waters?”

Fishing minister Victoria Prentis said in parliament last week that the UK had no jurisdiction over vessels fishing in the ‘Special Area’ operating under licences issued by the Faroese government.

The Special Area is the result of continental shelf boundary negotiations between the UK and Faroe allowing both countries to implement separate fisheries management measures in these waters.

Following visit of a Faroese government delegation to Westminster last week prime minister Bárður á Steig Nielsen said the current agreement does not allow Faroe to restrict the access of Russian vessels to the Special Area in 2022.

In exchange, the 45th Joint Faroese – Russian Fisheries Commission Agreement – signed on the 26 November 2021 – gives Faroese fishing vessels access to 15,356 tonnes of cod, 2,343 tonnes of haddock, 900 tonnes of flatfish and 2,500 tonnes of shrimp in the Barents Sea.

The pelagic trawler Altaire. Photo: Shetland Fishermen’s Association

“The Faroese Government is nevertheless ready to conduct constructive talks with the United Kingdom on the management of the Special Area,” a government statement added.

Leask continued: “Regarding fishing access and quota distribution, how can the Faroese Government be in a position to grant Russia an allocation of 75,000 tonnes of blue whiting quota to be fished within UK waters?

“This 75,000 tonnes allocated from Faroe to Russia is actually 28.5 per cent more than the allocated quota given to the entire UK pelagic fleet for fishing within its own waters.

“With the total UK blue whiting quota for 2022 only being 58,939 tonnes, how is a third-party country allowed to be allocated more quota within our waters than our own UK vessels?”

Leask said what he does not understand is why the fisheries exchange agreement between Russia and the Faroe Islands is being allowed to be fished in UK waters.

“How can this be an equally shared zone when 100 per cent of the zone is inside UK waters?” he asked, and added: “This irresponsible allocation of quota by Faroe in the long term will be devastating for the UK pelagic sector.”

Colin Leask’s full letter to prime minister Boris Johnson can be read here.