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Marine / Documentary reveals exploitative working conditions on board gill netters

The Irish Navy boarding the Pesorsa Dos. Photo: Irish Navy Service

ISLES MP Alistair Carmichael is to lobby the UK Government and other relevant organisations to put pressure on Germany after yet more revelations about the fleet of foreign gill netters operating in Shetland waters.

Working conditions described as “just one step removed from modern slavery” have been uncovered on board a number of Spanish-owned and German-registered gill netters catching monkfish.

A 30-minute programme by German public broadcaster NDR documents how the Indonesian crews on board the Pesorsa Dos and Ortegal Tres are working 12-hour days, sometimes for a whole year with no day off, and being paid 800 euros (around £700) per month.

The German documentary with English subtitles can be watched by clicking on the photo.

The minimum hourly wage in the UK is currently £10.42, while in Germany it is 12 Euro, well above a reported monthly income of £700.

Both ships were detained off the coast in Ireland earlier this year for alleged infringement of fisheries regulations. They were released after a bond worth several hundreds of thousands of Euros was paid.

The Pesorsa Dos is well known to local fishermen, having been at the centre of attention after the vessel’s crew allegedly tried to foul the propeller of the whitefish trawler Alison Kay, 30 miles to the west of the isles, in June 2020.

Fishermen post shocking video footage of ‘intolerable’ behaviour

This and other incidents were reported to the authorities at the time, and even raised in parliament by the Shetland and Orkney MP, but none of the relevant agencies showed much interest in getting to the bottom of what was alleged.

Jurisdiction for incidents on vessels outside the 12-mile limit sits with the flag state, in this case Germany.

Executive officer with the Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) Daniel Lawson said the documentary raises yet more issues to add to the number of concerns that have been vexing fishermen in Shetland for over a decade.

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“There are deep concerns about dumped gillnet/longline fishing gear, access to traditional fishing grounds, gear conflict, widespread wildlife entanglement and irresponsible waste disposal, dangerous practices at sea, and a lack of economic benefit to Shetland/Scotland,” he said.

“The visiting gillnet vessels detained and fined in this documentary also fish regularly around Shetland, in waters for which the Scottish Government are responsible.”

Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland. Photo: Shetland News

Carmichael added that the latest revelations were further evidence to how an exploitative and unsustainable a business gill netting is.

“It is the total lack of moral compass in the way these people do business: in their willingness to bully small boats off their traditional fishing grounds, in their reckless disregard for fish stocks and the health of the oceans leaving vast amount of plastic, waste and discarded net behind, and now their willingness to exploit financially these workers form Indonesia,” he said.

The UK and Scotland cannot be prepared to ignore this, the Lib Dem MP continued saying, adding that it was silence that allowed this exploitation to happen.

He also said that rules of enforcement out in the open sea were not fit for purpose, and needed to be brought much closer to the home ports.

“If the environmental damage that is done by boats like this and the commercial damage to our own people is not enough to force them [the UK Government] to act, then surely now because what we have here is just one step removed from modern slavery,” he said.

“Even if this is legislatively the responsibility of the German Government, as it may be, then we need to put serious pressure on the German Government to do something about this.

“We could have acted on this, but it is the indifference of the remarkable lack of curiosity that you find in enforcement agencies in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom that allows this to go undetected.

“It took the Irish to pull this boat up and for this to come to light.

“If Marine Scotland would have been prepared to take a tougher line with these guys for the years that we have been asking them to do it, then it would have been a Scottish or a British enforcement agency and not an Irish one that would have brought this to light.”

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