FISHERMEN from Burnmouth to Dunbar told Marine Scotland fisheries managers during a ‘quayside conversation’ at Eyemouth last week that the local fishing industry is in crisis.
The meeting in the Fishermen’s Mission was the first in a series of 17 meetings that Marine Scotland staff have arranged with fishermen around Scotland; and they were given plenty of information to take back to Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead, after their Eyemouth ‘conversation’.
Mike Palmer, Marine Scotland’s head of fisheries, started off the meeting describing it as being “like gold dust” for them to hear directly from people working in the industry.
What he was told was: “In the last 20 years we have been totally let down”. And he accepted that : The Common Fisheries Policy has been deeply flawed.”
Time and again the Berwickshire fishermen challenged EU conservation measures.
Bon Adventure skipper Brian Blackie said: “The North Sea is full of fish.”
However, the quotas for local boats fishing for white fish are so low that they are catching their quota within eight weeks and as a result larger boats such as the Bon Adventure are now joining the smaller boats fishing for prawns in order to make a living.
There is also frustration that the scientists are not reporting back to politicians what the fishermen are seeing - that the conservation meaures are now creating an imbalance in the North Sea, with sand eels decimated and too many boats fishing for prawns. Yet the white fish, such as haddock and cod, that are protected by restrictive catching quotas are now plentiful.
The low white fish quotas have had a catastrophic effect on Eyemouth fish processing businesses and it is estimated that eight have closed in the last six or seven years. As a result the white fish landed at ports such as Eyemouth is being transported up to the north east markets to be sold and it’s becoming more and more likely that the country’s fishing industry will be concentrated in the Fraserburgh area.
The lack of income from fishing landings also means that Eyemouth Harbour Trust is unable to service its £1 million liability for improvement work carried out, such as the new fish market building, and this has had to be picked up by Scottish Borders Council for the next five years while the harbour trust looks at other potential sources of income for the port other than fishing.
A bleak future looks almost certain for Eyemouth unless radical changes are made and Eyemouth councillor Michael Cook, who represents the South of Scotland at the EU’s North Sea Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions discussions said: “The picture here is bleaker than it has been in other parts of Scotland.”
“The infrastructure is breaking down. What I question is whether changes are going to happen quick enough. You can’t bring something back to life that’s already dead, that’s why it’s so critical.”
Suggesting ring fenced quotas for vulnerable ports like Eyemouth Mr Cook said: “We don’t have a white fish quota that works for Berwickshire.”
Youngsters are not coming into the industry as they see little future in it and even those who have started fishing, such as Brain Blackie’s sons, are looking elsewhere - one is now fishing for prawns while the other is skippering barges for the windfarms off the north east of England.
“There’s a fantastic future in the fishing industry if they (EU politicians and bureaucrats) would just lighten up on it,” said Mr Blackie, who was warned by a fellow fishermen five years ago to get out of the industry as bureaucrats had carved up the EU with the UK getting the banking industry and the French and Spanish the fishing.
“When the EU got involved in fishing that’s when it the whole industry went upside down,” said Mr Blackie.
Berwickshire fishermen feel particualarly let down because they have demonstrated a willingness to work with EU officials; they have been proactive in coming up with solutions to minimise discards and been among the first to equip their boats with the regulatory ELog satellite systems whereby their catches are logged onshore before they even return to port.
Yet the EU decided that instead of the nets proposed by local fishermen, that would reduce the amount of white fish caught while fishing for prawns, the unworkable Swedish grid nets should be used - EU officials now accepting that the nets they championed are unworkable.
The new ELog system, which fishermen have to fill in daily while at sea providing onshore bureaucrats with information on catches, is estimated to be costing the averge fisherman between £150-£200 a month in in contract fees. Many of the inshore fishermen described it as dangerous as they are having to fill it in as they travel back to port.
“It’s unsafe - it’s like trying to drive a car in the dark watching a television screen at the same time,” said one fisherman.
In January, Eyemouth Harbour Trust, Anglo-Scottish Fishermen’s Association (ASFA) and Scottish Borders Council’s economic development unit met UK Fishermies Minister Caroline Spelman and local MP Michael Moore, asking for help on 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.
At Thursday’s meeting there was general disappointment that over nine months later there has been no follow up from the Minister.