Fishermen’s friend offers helping hand

Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for Enviroment, Food and Rural Affairs speaking at Eyemouth's harbour trust during a meeting with representatives from the fishing industary
Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for Enviroment, Food and Rural Affairs speaking at Eyemouth's harbour trust during a meeting with representatives from the fishing industary

EYEMOUTH Harbour Trust and local fishermen came away from a meeting with UK Fisheries Minister Caroline Spelman, and Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore, feeling slightly more optimistic than they have done for some time.

The two UK ministers met a Borders delegation in Eyemouth last Thursday, to hear first hand the difficulties being experienced by Berwickshire fishermen in trying to keep their businesses going, while complying with the latest EU regulations, and they took on board the need for Government support if the fishing industry is to survive.

Eyemouth Harbour Trust, Anglo-Scottish Fishermen’s Association (ASFA) and Scottish Borders Council’s economic development unit joined forces to challenge ministers on a number of key issues: preventing further decline of the fleet, the value and volume of landings, and the scale of processing activities; support for entrepreneurship and skills development; support for diversification into new areas of economic activity, including renewables; investment in harbour management infrastructure; investment in quality and standards.

Afterwards, Christine Bell of the Eyemouth Harbour Trust, said: “I thought the meeting was very positive.

“The fishing industry was well represented with a good turnout across the board and it was great that our local fishermen had the opportunity to have face to face dialogue with the Ministers.

“Although the discussions were focused on local issues, they are concerns that have national commonality and they are affecting many UK coastal communities.

“The meeting must now be followed up with actions between Government and the industry.”

The importance of the fishing industry to the wider economy, days at sea restrictions, diversification and red tape were the main issues tackled at the Eyemouth meeting.

Sandy Ritchie from the Anglo Scottish Fishermen’s Association said of the meeting: “I think it went very well. Everyone seemed to take on board what we were saying to them. In fact I got more than I expected to start with and found the Minister very receptive.

“The main point is that at the end of year negotiations Britain was lucky to get away with what they did get, which was a reduction in the number of days at sea and an increase in quotas. But that’s absolutely no use if you don’t have time to catch the increased quota allowance.”

Eyemouth fishermen argue that practical solutions need to be found so that fishermen can be at sea long enough to use the quotas they are allowed to catch.

The days at sea restrictions are likely to limit bigger boats going off shore increasing pressure on in-shore grounds and smaller fleets, and one suggestion put to ministers was to see if steaming time be separated from fishing time in counting days at sea.

Technical conservation measures and the ‘conservation credit’ scheme is supported by local fishermen pushing for the allocation of additional days at sea in return for them using specialised nets that reduce discards.

“What we have suggested is that the EU have certain conditions about certain kinds of nets and if you use them you are exempt from the days at sea restrictions.

“Trials of ‘Coverless trawl’ have demonstrated 73% less bi-catch. But the Swedish grid solution they are proposing is impractical and doesn’t do the job it’s meant to do,” added Mr Ritchie.

Local fishermen already have more efficient nets that reduce the amount of bi-catch and discards, which is what the EU is aiming for, and they just want the Marine Scotland scientists to give these nets their approval so that fishermen’s days at sea can be increased. They also need to know their quota allocations prior to June.

The Fisheries Minister was asked for support to develop small scale sustainable fisheries such as handline mackerel, sprats etc as alternatives to creels to relieve the pressure on stocks; adding that quotas are needed for new stocks.

And for many the amount of paperwork and red tape involved in fishing nowadays is getting out of hand.

“There are lots of technical regulations and one Government initiative is red tape reduction. Caroline Spelman has already done it on the agricultural side and she promised to do that for the fishing industry too. These are things we have asked for in the past and were about to ask for again but she pre-empted it,” said Mr Ritchie.

Here in the Borders inconsistencies between Marine Scotland and Defra rules relating to net sizes make ‘cross border’ fishing difficult as the nets need changed and can’t be stored on board and Ms Spelman was told that solutions need to be found.

Satisfied that they were heard and that positive action has been promised by the Fisheries Minister, Mr Ritchie said: “We look forward to meeting them in the future and having a second round.”

David Shiel, chairman of the Anglo Scottish Fishermen’s Association added: “I thought it went very well, we just have to wait for the outcome but I thought the meeting was very productive.

“At least she listened and had some good explanations.”