DCSIMG

Quotas set to put bite on fresh fish and chips

Key points

• EU deal further cuts North Sea cod quota 15% and haddock 13%

• Chip shop owners say fish from Scottish waters now too dear to cook

• Environmentalists say deal too little to save North Sea stocks

Key quote

"The truth probably is that compensation needs to be paid to fishermen, and they should close the North Sea to fishing for ten years. They have enough haddock off Iceland to keep everybody going for the next 50 years. There is no shortage there and no reason for prices to go rocketing up" - David Tomlinson, Scottish council member of the National Federation of Fish Friers

Story in full SCOTLAND'S traditional haddock supper - the mainstay of chip shops - is facing a foreign invasion as a result of the new catching curbs announced yesterday by European fisheries ministers, it was claimed.

Chip shop owners warned last night that it is now inevitable the fish supper, historically made from fresh-caught haddock landed at Scottish ports, will have to be primarily sourced next year from frozen fish - from Iceland - to ensure that prices remain stable.

But fishmongers vowed to work with the industry to keep cost increases to a minimum, despite the controversial "compromise" agreement secured for trawlermen by British negotiators.

David Tomlinson, Scottish council member of the National Federation of Fish Friers, claimed that, while quayside prices for fresh fish may rise, the price of a supper was likely to remain stable.

He said: "We are paying through the nose for haddock landed at Scottish ports. You can spend 30-odd a stone for haddock landed in Scotland, while you could get Icelandic haddock for as little as 16 a stone.

"Fifty per cent of the haddock sold in Scottish fish and chip shops comes from Iceland. And the majority of owners will simply switch to Icelandic haddock, which is plentiful and cheap.

"It's sad fact, but that is the way of it.

"The truth probably is that compensation needs to be paid to fishermen, and they should close the North Sea to fishing for ten years. They have enough haddock off Iceland to keep everybody going for the next 50 years. There is no shortage there and no reason for prices to go rocketing up."

As environmentalists accused European fisheries ministers of sealing the fate of the North Sea's already fragile cod stocks by failing to impose a blanket ban on catches, fishermen's leaders admitted that the outcome of the negotiations, while disappointing, was better than many had feared.

Opposition politicians, however, accused Ross Finnie, the fisheries minister, of betraying the industry.

Under the deal, the North Sea cod quota is to be cut by a further 15 per cent, while the haddock catch will fall by 13 per cent - 28 per cent less than the cut demanded by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas.

The lucrative North Sea prawn quota will be increased by 30 per cent, while the prawn catch in west of Scotland waters will rise by 39 per cent. The west of Scotland herring catch has also been increased by 13 per cent.

White-fish skippers, however, will have the number of days they can spend fishing next year cut from 180 days to 175 at worst, 11 days more than the reduction target being demanded by Joe Borg, the European Fisheries Commissioner.

Prawn boats, despite the quota increase, also face tighter restrictions in the number of days they can spend at sea and will be limited to total of 226 fishing days in 2006.

Alex West, the president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said: "It's a mixed picture, but it could have been a lot worse. We are extremely pleased with the prawn position, but very disappointed in the cut in the haddock catch because that is a real cut in earnings for the white-fish boats. The big increase in the prawn catch is the real gold nugget for us and excellent news.

"Officials did their very best and worked their socks off to try and do something for us, and we couldn't blame them for the outcome."

He said there was also good news for pelagic fishermen, with an increased allocation in the North Sea and west of Scotland herring quotas and a 5 per cent increase in the mackerel catch. Mr West added: "I think we will be able to get through the year, but the straitjacket we are in now because of the cod-recovery plan means that there is no room for manoeuvre.

"Every time your get a cut in the total allowable catch it comes off a boat's earnings.

"For the past six months, the whole fishing industry has been going forward. The prices have been up and the boats have been doing well. And an increase in quayside prices next year could help to lessen the pain."

Mike Park, the chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association, said: "The thing we have lost is the thing we catch most of - the haddock - and that will go directly to the bottom line. Politically, it was about the best outcome that could have been achieved, but it will mean a reduction in the income of some sections of the fleet.

"A 65 per cent reduction in catching capacity achieved over the last two or three years has so far not produced any significant improvements for the white-fish sector in terms of quota and fishing effort."

He added: "I hope these restrictions won't drive anybody out of business. Fishermen will make a living next year, but it is going to cost them more to make a living by leasing in days and leasing in quota. But if the supply goes down and demand is high, the price [of fish] will go up. The only problem is that some of our biggest boats are tied into corporate contracts and these contracts are difficult to shift."

Mr Finnie, meanwhile, insisted that British negotiators had delivered a "successful package" for Scotland's fishing industry.

He said: "Our priority was to secure a balanced deal which recognises the vulnerability of the cod stock as well as providing improved economic opportunities for Scotland's fleet. The programme we have agreed will encourage other member states to do more to meet conservation targets. It will help to establish greater equity on effort reduction and to make our industry more sustainable, profitable and well-managed."

Opposition MSPs, however, condemned the deal.

Richard Lochhead, the SNP's fisheries spokesman, said: "Fishermen face a bleaker Christmas following Ross Finnie's failure to stop Brussels imposing more damaging cuts on Scotland. On top of all the cuts of recent years, these latest cuts will impact on fishermen who only just managed to stay afloat in 2005. The Scots fleet achieved everything asked of it and met all its conservation targets, yet has been handed down another unjust, anti-Scottish deal."

The environmental campaign group WWF Scotland claimed the Brussels agreement had effectively written off cod in the North Sea. Claire Pescod, the marine policy officer, said: "It makes no sense to continue to allow targeted fishing on a stock that is on the brink of collapse, as fisheries ministers are with North Sea cod.

"In doing so, they are ensuring that this iconic British species has virtually no chance of survival or recovery.

"If the EU continues this madness of setting quotas above what the species can support, other fish stocks will follow the same route to collapse as North Sea cod."

 
 
 

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