Mike Park: So far, so good for Britain’s fishing fleets

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GIVEN what we were faced with, this outcome is about as good as could have been delivered.

It halts this ridiculous annual decline in the number of days that vessels can spend at sea which eventually, if carried to its conclusion, would have just ruined the fleets round the coast of the UK.

As far as the quotas are concerned, there are increases in some areas and small decreases in others. So overall, the balance is still the same.

It also gives us the opportunity now to negotiate with Norway a suitable total allowable catch for cod.

There is a call for an automatic 20 per cent cut in the catch but if you do that at a time when stocks are building in a mixed fishery, all you do is create further discards. We are hoping we will at least get a roll over in the quota and that Norway doesn’t hold us hostage.

The talks with Norway are due to take place in Ireland from 15 to 18 January. Until that point in time, our vessels do not get access to Norwegian waters but will be able to fish for cod and haddock in our own sector of the North Sea before then.

The big threat for the industry next year is the market. The price of fish and price of nephrops (prawns) is coming down and that is a real threat to the white fish sector next year.

The price of nephrops started to fall recently because of problems in Spain and Italy where most of the product goes. And there are problems on the continent as well with monkfish and megrims because of the Spanish market and problems with the economy there. We also had a million tonnes of cod coming into the north Norway area and that all adds pressure to the system. So we are fearful prices will come to the point where they start causing the industry real harm.

Prices of cod and haddock at the end of the year are at the lowest they have been for about 20 years in real terms. There is a shortage of capacity onshore for processing fish and a general glut of fish on the market.

The price of haddock this week, for example, is probably at its minimum price of £15 a box. But when demand is good it is probably reaching between £50 to £70 a box. So, in terms of how the fleet fares financially next year, a lot will hinge on what happens to the prices.

We are worried that this decline could continue. Like every industry you can sustain a drop in prices for a short period of time, but if we get a long stable low price then that starts to cause the industry real harm.

• Mike Park is executive chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association.