FISHING CHIEFS fear for the future of the Scottish fleet as crucial talks over catching opportunities begin in Brussels today.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) is warning that the looming discard ban is casting a huge cloud of uncertainty over the fishing fleet.
The discard ban - or landing obligation as it is known - comes into effect for mackerel and herring on 1 January 2015, with the whitefish fleet following the year after.
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However, SFF said there is still little detail of how the new EU regulation will be managed – or assessment made of the impact it will have on the viability of fishing fleets.
Under the discard ban, fishermen will have to land all the fish they catch, which will be counted against their quota.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the SFF, said: “No one abhors throwing good quality fish over the side more than our fishermen, but we are now in the ridiculous position where we have the discard ban coming into operation for mackerel and herring fishermen on 1 January, yet minimum landing size and catch composition rules have yet to be amended.
“This means that fishermen adhering to the new regulation will actually be breaking the law. We are in the perverse situation of which law a fisherman breaks first, or which piece of legislation the compliance agencies would have to enforce first.”
However, the main focus of this week’s Fisheries Council will be on quotas for 2015.
Many have already been decided at the recent negotiations between the EU and Norway for shared stocks. This has resulted in increases for North Sea cod and haddock, and reductions for North Sea whiting and saithe in line with the management plans and the scientific advice.
However, the Fisheries Council will decide upon a range of other stocks, including North Sea and West coast prawns, and West coast haddock, herring and northern monkfish.
Mr Armstrong said: “Although the new agreed quotas and the proposals on the table contain the usual mix of increases and decreases, in the main these fluctuations are not huge, which will bring an element of stability to the fishing fleet in 2015.
“The key underlying element is that the fish stocks of most interest to the Scottish industry are, with a few exceptions, either in robust health or heading encouragingly in that direction.
“This Fisheries Council presents an important opportunity to agree on catch levels that reflects both the actual abundance of fish stocks and the requirement to reduce discards.”
He added: “The fight to stop any further cuts in the number of fishing days for our fishermen under the discredited cod recovery plan was effectively won two years ago and has been applied automatically ever since. Whilst we do not anticipate effort control to be an issue at the Fisheries Council, it is an area we do need to remain vigilant over.”
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