THE threat of draconian days at sea cuts being imposed on the Scottish fleet next year has been lifted at the start of crucial negotiations at the annual meeting of the European Fisheries Council in Brussels today.
• Proposals for a 25 per cent cut in fishing days would prove economically unsustainable, said Scottish fishermen’s leaders
• Richard Lochhead pleased with result; confident that Scottish fishermen and fish stocks would benefit if remaining negotiations go to plan
Scottish fishermen’s leaders had warned earlier this week that proposals for a further 25 per cent reduction in the numbers of days they can fish, tabled by Brussels bureaucrats, would prove economically unsustainable for the fishing industry.
But the Scottish Government today announced: “For the first time in five years the way has been cleared to avoid Scottish fishermen having to suffer more damaging cuts to days at sea. The good news came very early in the EU Fisheries Council negotiations in Brussels, following a vote by European fishing ministers.”
Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Fisheries Secretary who is leading the Scottish delegation at the fish talks in Brussels, said: “It is great news for Scotland’s fishing industry that very early on we have succeeded in securing some key priorities. For the first time in many years our fishermen will be able to sleep a little easier this Christmas with the threat of a further cut in days at sea and also a 20 per cent cut in cod quota fading.
“This is a very significant and welcome stance by Ministers fed up with lawyers telling them why common sense can’t prevail. If the rest of the negotiations go as planned then our fishermen and our fish stocks will benefit.”
He continued: “The lawyers who said there was no way round this have been rebuffed by Fishing Ministers, who have run out of patience with a plan that is so incredibly inflexible.
“It was vitally important we came away from this week’s talks with a mechanism to freeze days at sea allocations under the Cod Recovery Plan, thereby avoiding a scheduled cut that would cripple many vessels.”
Mr Lochhead added: “With 26 of 27 member states voting for these changes and one country abstaining, the message was clear that ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to nonsensical bureaucratic decisions being taken which destroy livelihoods.
“The deeply flawed cod plan also proposed a further cut in quota when the stock is actually recovering – and the only result would have been a trail of discards across the North Sea. So, the second win allows us the freedom to negotiate with Norway to provide for a rollover for the TAC (total allowable catch) for cod.”
Mr :Lochhead concluded: “While there is still a long way to go and we are still keen to secure more flexibilities including on a number of west coast issues, it is a huge success that at last common sense has won out over legal wrangles and red tape in Brussels.”
Jamie McGrigor, the Scottish Conservative fisheries spokesman, welcomed the breakthrough.
He said: “Like fishermen and fishing communities across Scotland I welcome the news that it appears we have managed to avoid yet further cuts in days at sea and the proposed 20 per cent in cod quota under the Cod Recovery Plan, which was causing so much alarm to our fishermen and flew in the face of science showing a recovery in cod stocks.
“These proposals would have caused real harm to the Scottish fishing fleet which has done more for conservation measures than any other in Europe. They would also have led to an increase in the wasteful discards everyone wants to avoid.”
He added: “I now look to the Scottish Government to deliver other key improvements on the current proposals, including reversing plans for significant cuts in the total allowable catch of important species on the west coast including megrim, monkfish, whiting and hake.