Opposing automatic reduction in days at sea

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The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is vigorously opposing the automatic reduction in the number of days that fishing vessels can put to sea that is set to come into force in 2012 under European regulations.

SFF Member Associations have made their feelings very clear, repeating the strongest possible message of rejection from the quayside.

Under the automatic mechanism introduced by the EC as part of the Cod Recovery Plan, Scottish whitefish and prawn boats stand to lose further days that they can put to sea in 2012 in a move that will “break the backbone” of the already hard-pressed fleet.

Vessels will face the stark reality of trying to work with a 45% reduction since the introduction of the scheme at the start of 2009.

A high-level EC representative was robustly challenged about the plans by the fishing industry at a recent meeting of the North West Waters Regional Advisory Council, who was told that the Commission was paying scant regard to the large number of conservation measures introduced by the Scottish fleet and that any further cuts in days would put intolerable pressure on the industry.

SFF President, Alan Coghill, said: “Everyone – including the Commission’s own scientific advisors – agrees that the mandatory and automatic days at sea reductions under the cod plan are not the best way to continue the improvements in the cod stock that we are seeing, particularly in Scottish waters.

“We are well past the point of diminishing returns on continued reductions, year on year since the end of 2008, of between 10 and 25%. The plan is under formal review, and a further set of cuts of this size for both the whitefish and prawn fleets in 2012 simply cannot be tolerated.

“The very worst part is that little account has been taken of the measures undertaken by the Scottish fleet in particular – literally hundreds of real-time area closures to avoid cod, more selective nets in the whitefish fleet, a really serious set of self-help trials and innovation by the prawn fleets and the use of CCTV to avoid discarding.

“This has been used under the terms of the plan to “buy-back” some days at sea, but we now find to our horror that instead of encouragement from the Commission to find and develop practical solutions, we are regarded as simply trying to avoid reductions.

“The central statement by the Commission, that the “plan cannot be changed” is bordering on daft, given that it is proven scientifically not to be working as it was designed.

“It is absolutely clear that the normal route of discussion with the Commission is going to have little or no effect in achieving a commonsense allocation of days at sea for next year. It is vital that on this matter the UK and Scottish Governments lead an international push at the Council of Ministers to find some mechanism to freeze the auto-reductions for 2012 to allow the review of the plan to be properly completed. We need sensible solutions – cod avoidance properly applied – not another turn of a rack that is simply breaking the backbone of the Scottish whitefish and prawn fleets.”

The SFF is now in the process of contacting Scottish and UK fisheries ministers in a bid to get opposition to the plan firmly on the table.