Fishermen underwhelmed by new changes to quotas

SCOTTISH fishing quotas and licenses will be distributed by the Scottish Government in future instead of the UK Government allocating quotas directly to fishermen and organisations such as the Anglo-Scottish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd.

Fisheries Administrations in the UK announced last week that a new ‘Concordat’ had been agreed that will see the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Northern Ireland Executive each allocating annually agreed shares of UK quotas for distribution to their fleets. There will be no permanent split of the UK quota under the EU’s Cod Recovery Plan, and fishing vessels will continue to be free to move their operations to another part of the UK.

Here in Berwickshire inconsistencies between Marine Scotland and Defra (UK Government’s department of enviroment, food and rural affairs) rules relating to net sizes can make ‘cross border’ fishing difficult and local fishermen are represented by the cross border Anglo Scottish Fishermen’s Association, with many of them fishing both sides of the border.

One Burnmouth fisherman found himself in court earlier this year for breaching Northumberland fishing by-laws for using edible brown crab as bait in his pots (not an offence north of the border) but his original £10,000 fine was overturned on appeal.

David Shiel, chairman of the Anglo Scottish Fishermens Association, which represents fishermen, skippers and boat owners in the area between the Rivers Aln and Forth, was underwhelmed by the announcement saying: “At the end of the day the quotas are still going to come from Defra and the changes are just going to cost the country money - Defra pass them on to the Scottish Government who then pass them on to the fishermen.

“I don’t see it making much difference at the moment but they are always coming up with something different when things are working properly.”

The change to the distribution of quotas is the first direct action seen by local fishermen following a meeting they had with UK Fisheries Minister Caroline Spelman earlier this year when they discussed the importance of the fishing industry to the wider economy, days at sea restrictions, diversification and red tape. But despite optimism immediately after that meeting that their voices have been heard, the expected follow up meetings have yet to take place according to Mr Shiel.

The new fishing quota arrangements have been welcomed by the Scottish Government.

Richard Lochhead, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, said: “This agreement represents a step forward that allows Fisheries Administrations to advance the interests of their fleets and communities. Scotland’s diverse fleet catches over two thirds of the UK’s quotas and makes a crucial contribution to the Scottish economy and the success of our coastal communities. The flexibility that this agreement offers will provide new opportunities to better support our vital fishing communities, developing solutions through co-management with our fishing industry.”

Richard Benyon, UK Fisheries Minister said: “By giving each nation greater control of quotas we will all be able to be more flexible on how quota is allocated to individual boats. This will enable the UK to move quota around to where it is needed and we hope to see a reduction in discards.

“It will also make it easier to manage fisheries across the UK and is a significant step forward for the fishing industry.”