Following a marathon session of talks, the EU Fish Council in Brussels to decide upon catching opportunity for 2012 concluded early this morning (17 December) with the Scottish fleet being hit by the bitter blow of a further cut in the number of days that its vessels can put to sea next year.
This Council has been very different from previous years. While fishing opportunity in terms of tonnage has always been vital, this time around it was the granting of enough time at sea to actually catch the fish that was under threat. The EC was proposing under its Cod Recovery Plan, which the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation believes is fundamentally flawed, a further reduction in the number of days at sea.
In the margins of the Council, a very tough series of internal meetings were held between the fishing industry and the UK and Scottish Governments to forge a package to put before the EC that would enable Scottish fishermen to continue their programme of developing innovative unilateral measures to conserve stocks. Unfortunately, this failed to produce the required result. While a truly ridiculous early proposal to actually shut the UK fleet down was not enacted, the EC rejected the rest of the UK argument and have now implemented a cut of between 15% and 25% in the number of days at sea that whitefish and prawn fishing vessels can put to sea in 2012, which equates to around only four days every fortnight.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “This is a bitter blow for our fishing fleet, which is now going to struggle to maintain economic viability under the impact of these totally unwarranted cuts. Effort control is fundamentally flawed as a fisheries management measure and the EC has totally ignored the real progress in stock conservation that has been developed by Scotland in recent years through the adoption of unilateral conservation measures that has seen a significant reduction in discards and has helped boost stock recovery. Our whole industry is now facing a very difficult future.”
As well as days-at-sea, quotas for the Scottish fleet for 2012 were also finalised at the Fish Council. Despite its centre stage position in the negotiations, cod only forms around 5% of the value of Scottish fish landings. As far as other species are concerned there were, as usual, higher and lower quota outcomes, reflecting the cyclical nature of fish stocks. Among the brighter spots was an increase in West of Scotland haddock of 200%, recognising a burgeoning stock. North Sea herring was increased by almost 100% and North Sea haddock is up by 15%. On the other side of the coin, the monkfish quota was reduced by 5% in the West of Scotland.
Bertie Armstrong said: “Many of the difficulties faced during this iteration of the annual process, such as agreeing the details of the days at sea regime, point strongly towards the need to properly implement the ‘regionalisation’ of fisheries management, which is one of the key measures being proposed under the current review and reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.
“Centralised micro-management of the European fishing industry should give way to devolved responsibility so as to set regulations that are practicable and which will deliver real conservation results. The current regime of an annual two day process to decide upon measures that affect many thousands of fishermen and businesses is a ludicrous way to manage our valuable fisheries. The top priority of the Scottish and UK governments of providing a freeze in days at sea has simply failed. The industry now has a mountain to climb.”