SCOTS fishermen – fearing the impact of the Russian food export ban – can “bank” a quarter of their mackerel quotas following a change in European law.
The European Union Fisheries Council has agreed to allow the industry to bank 25 per cent of the 2014 quota, up from the current 10 per cent, and roll it over for use in 2015.
Fishermen’s leaders welcomed the plan, which means more stock being left in the sea, avoiding potential waste because of the weakened demand in the marketplace.
The move also allows the industry time to win important trade deals with new markets.
Moscow imposed an embargo on food imports from the EU and United States in response to sanctions over Ukraine.
The ban has had the biggest impact on Scotland, where fishermen hold 70 per cent of the UK mackerel quota.
The Russian market accounted for 18 per cent of UK mackerel exports last year, generating £16 million.
The change in legislation, which includes species of herring and sprat, means UK fishermen could potentially reserve 72,500 tonnes from their 290,000-tonne 2014 quota for next year.
Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, said: “It is still too early to assess what the impact of the Russian trade sanctions will be on the Scottish mackerel sector. The fishing season has started and the fish is selling on the international markets.
“But it is important that we have flexibility through the facility to bank and carry forward some of the 2014 quota into next year should it be required.”
He added: “Scientists have confirmed that banking this level of quota will not be detrimental to the stock in the medium to long term.”
Scotland’s fisheries minister Richard Lochhead said: “I am delighted. I had previously written to the commissioner asking for an increase to be considered and the additional amount will be a significant and welcome help to Scotland’s fishing industry as they seek to mitigate the impact of the Russian ban.
“And while we may not use all the extra banking, it makes sense to give our fishermen the flexibility to leave some of the fish in the sea for another year.”
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said: “This is a great example of the UK government working together with industry and major Scottish fishing communities, such as those in the North-east, to help ensure fishing will be as much a part of Scotland’s future as it has been of our past.”
Jamie McGrigor, Highlands and Islands MSP and the Scottish Conservative fisheries spokesman, said: “This common-sense decision is welcome news and a boost to the Scottish pelagic fishing sector with the mackerel season already under way this month.
“It is appropriate that the EU is able to allow flexibility on this issue so that this banking may be used later in the year if the industry requires it as a result of the impact of the lost Russian market.”