SCOTTISH fishermen were quietly celebrating today after securing their best catch quota deal for five years.
Richard Lochhead, the Scottish fisheries secretary, claimed the tide may have finally turned for the beleaguered Scottish fleet after UK and Scottish ministers successfully fought off demands by Brussels bureaucrats for draconian cuts in some of the most important landing quotas for the Scottish fishing industry.
But fishermen will have to wait until the outcome of crucial talks at the end of next month between the European Union and Norway to learn their quota share for some of their most lucrative North Sea catches, including cod, haddock, herring, whiting and mackerel.
As he emerged from the talks a relieved Mr Lochhead declared: “Our fishermen can leave Brussels knowing the tide might be finally starting to turn for them.
“It will not all be plain sailing, but instead of having to face wave after wave of cuts each year, there is now the opportunity for sensible decisions to be made that are not strangled by legal red tape.
“Overall, this is one of the best deals we have seen for many, many years.”
Under the new catch quota agreement, west coast fishermen will have a 30 per cent cut in the quota for their mainstay catch of haddock next year. But they had originally been facing a demand for a 48 per cent cut in the valuable landings.
Bertie Armstrong, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “There are some obvious disappointments such as the west coast haddock quota, but overall this is the best deal we have had for five years.”
Mr Armstrong added: “Considerable credit has to go to the Scottish and UK governments for their negotiating stance, which has ensured that a common-sense approach on fisheries management based on the science has been adopted.
“Fishing effort in Scotland has been slashed by almost 70 per cent over the last ten years and we were quite simply at a stage where the fleet could not sustain any more cuts.”
Tavish Scott, the Shetland MSP and Scottish Liberal Democrat fisheries spokesman, said: “The benefits of the UK and Scottish governments working hard together for local fishermen are clear. Brussels had dangerous proposals that would have clobbered our boats. But the EU Norway negotiations in January still include a 20 per cent cut in cod quota which would increase discards, not cut them. Ministers therefore need to keep their eye on the ball in these ongoing negotiations.”
Jamie McGrigor, the Scottish Conservative’s fisheries spokesman, welcomed the outcome.
He said: “UK and Scottish ministers worked together to secure a much improved deal for our Scottish fishermen in comparison with the original EU proposals. Fishermen can be more optimistic now about the outcome of the EU-Norway talks.”
Kara Brydson, RSPB Scotland’s senior marine policy officer said: “The Scottish Government must ensure that a freeze on cuts will reduce discards, to achieve our common objective of ‘catch less and land more’.”