EC automatic fishing time cuts “breaking the backbone” of Scottish fishing fleet

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The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) is vigorously opposing the automatic reduction in the number of days vessels may put to sea under European regulations due to come into force in 2012.

The SFF member associations are voicing the strongest possible message of rejection to the European measures.

Under the Cod Recovery Plan mechanism introduced by the EC, Scottish whitefish and shellfish boats stand to lose yet more days that they can put out to sea in 2012.

SFF president Shetlander Alan Coghill, stated the new regulation would “break the backbone” of a fleet already under tremendous pressure.  Since the scheme began in 2009, vessels are facing trying to work with a 45 per cent reduction in sea time by 2012.

Mr Coghill said: “Everyone – including the Commission’s own scientific advisers – agrees that the mandatory and automatic days-at-sea reductions under the cod plan are not the best way to continue the improvements in the cod stock that we are seeing, particularly in Scottish waters.”

“We are well past the point of diminishing returns on continued reductions, year on year since the end of 2008, of between 10 and 25 per cent. The plan is under formal review, and a further set of cuts of this size for both the whitefish and prawn fleets in 2012 simply cannot be tolerated.”

“The very worst part is that little account has been taken of the measures undertaken by the Scottish fleet in particular – literally hundreds of real-time area closures to avoid cod, more selective nets in the whitefish fleet, a really serious set of self-help trials and innovation by the prawn fleets and the use of CCTV to avoid discarding.”

“This has been used under the terms of the plan to ‘buy-back’ some days at sea, but we now find to our horror that instead of encouragement from the Commission to find and develop practical solutions, we are regarded as simply trying to avoid reductions.”

Mr Coghill said the central statement by the Commission, that the “plan cannot be changed”, was bordering on daft, given that it was proven scientifically not to be working as it was designed.

He added: “It is absolutely clear that the normal route of discussion with the Commission is going to have little or no effect in achieving a commonsense allocation of days at sea for next year.”

“It is vital that on this matter the UK and Scottish governments lead an international push at the Council of Ministers to find some mechanism to freeze the auto-reductions for 2012 to allow the review of the plan to be properly completed.”

“We need sensible solutions – cod avoidance properly applied – not another turn of a rack that is simply breaking the backbone of the Scottish whitefish and prawn fleets.”

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said the cut cannot continue.

Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead is embarking on two days of “crucial” talks.  He is meeting with UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon and will emphasise that the EC automatic cuts in fishing time need to be put on hold.

Mr Lochhead said: “Scottish fishermen have worked tirelessly to help stock recovery. However to take a further cut in fishing time, on top of increasingly deep cuts already applied over the last few years, would be too much for a vulnerable fleet.”