SCOTLAND, UK - A freeze on cuts to days at sea and an increase in quotas for some of Scotland's key stocks were some of the results of the annual EU Fisheries Council talks which concluded in Brussels yesterday, 16 December.
The council agreed quota increases for North Sea monkfish (20 per cent), megrim (one per cent) and prawns (15 per cent), West Coast haddock (14 per cent) and monkfish (20 per cent) and Rockall haddock (113 per cent).
However, a decrease in quotas for West coast prawns (-seven per cent) and West coast herring (-19 per cent) was agreed.
These increased quotas will hopefully help fishermen with the discard ban which will come into force next year.
Commenting as talks concluded, Scotland’s Fishing Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Securing a freeze on proposed cuts to days at sea as well as increases in key stocks is welcome news and will help our fishermen with the implementation of the challenging but transformational discard ban which is being phased in from January 2015 onwards.
“Over the past few weeks and months I have been making a plea for Europe to give greater urgency to preparing for the implementation of the landing obligation (discard ban) and stressing how we must look at developing 21st century tools, and modern management plans, to provide a workable solution to ensure successful implementation of the ban.
“I am pleased that the need for flexibilities to help prepare for the discard bans in Scotland’s complex fisheries are beginning to be acknowledged. And I look forward to continuing discussions on wider management options as we move this year toward the next phase of the ban."
Ian Duncan, the Conservative MEP for Scotland, also welcomed the deal, saying: "Although the newly agreed quotas contain the usual mix of increases and decreases, in the main these fluctuations are manageable. This is undoubtedly better news for Scotland’s fishermen and should bring an element of stability to our fleet as we move in to 2015."
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, added: “With the majority of stocks of interest to Scottish fishermen either in good health or moving in the right direction, the quotas agreed deliver an element of short-term stability for much of the Scottish fleet. It is particularly pleasing that for 2015 there will be more catching opportunity for haddock, monkfish, North Sea prawns and North Sea cod. This is helpful for the Scottish fleet and our thanks go to Scottish fishing minister Richard Lochhead and his negotiating team.”
Two of Scotland’s largest fishing organisations also welcomed the outcome as being “reasonably positive” for their members.
Leaders of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association (SWFPA) and the Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) also said that they welcomed pressure from the Scottish Government on the European Commission to face up to the practical problems thrown up by the introduction of the discard ban.
Chief executive of the SWFPA Mike Park said: “This has been a reasonably positive December Council for fishermen in Scotland.
“At long last the Commission is beginning to recognise that the discard ban has created more problems than it has solved.
And SFA executive officer Simon Collins added: “Over and above details of quotas for next year, the Commission needs to shoulder its responsibilities on implementing the discard ban.
Discard Ban Approaching
The biggest challenge now facing the industry will be the implementation of the discard ban as fishermen will be required to land everything they catch and it will be counted against their quota.
There is also still the issue of the minimum landing size law which looks to remain in force, despite it requiring fishermen to discard fish.
Commenting on the matter, Mr Armstrong said: “Fishermen hate having to discard and throw perfectly good fish over the side, but we have real fears that the landing obligation will be implemented in a way that will lead to unnecessary damage to the industry. Unbelievably, the present regulations which force fishermen to discard fish – such as the ‘minimum landing size’ rules - remain in force and there is no legal certainty over whether these regulations or the new ones will prevail.
“This is well-recognised by the UK and Scottish Governments, who will issue guidance, but the fact remains that the introduction of a revolution in fisheries management has no proper legal foundation. This inevitably makes the industry deeply nervous. It is essential that this is corrected over the coming months – and certainly before the introduction in 2016 of the discard ban for complex mixed fisheries. The industry and Scottish Government have agreed that this is a top priority for 2015.”
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