SFF: bleak outlook for whitefish fleet

06 Dec 2010
There has been a 20% reduction in the cod quota and a 5% cutback in the haddock total allowable catch.

There has been a 20% reduction in the cod quota and a 5% cutback in the haddock total allowable catch.

There was mixed fortunes for the Scottish fishing fleet following the conclusion of talks between the EU and Norway to settle the total allowable catches of seven shared stocks including North Sea haddock, cod, whiting and herring, said the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.

SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong said it was good news that that an agreement was reached between the EU and Norway as this will enable access for Scottish boats into the Norwegian sector straight after the New Year, which wasn’t possible at the start of 2010.

The agreement reached at the EU/Norway talks includes a 5% cut for North Sea haddock and 20% for cod - the mainstay of the Scottish North Sea fleet.

There will be the provision for fishermen to ‘buy back’ extra cod equal to 12% of the reduced TAC if they participate in the trial ‘catch quota’ scheme, where boats land all the fish they catch.

Once the catch limit for cod has been reached, then fishing for the species must halt. The aim of the scheme is to eliminate discards and this year 16 Scottish whitefish boats participated and, depending on the detail, the SFF anticipates that somewhere in the region of 35 boats will be eligible for 2011.

However, Armstrong points out this will still leave in the region of 75 whitefish boats that will face a 20% cut in their cod quota, along with the whole prawn fleet.

“We need to immediately assess the lessons learned from fishermen who participated in the catch quota scheme this year and new fishermen joining the scheme for 2011 will need to be prepared to install monitoring cameras on their vessels.

“The catch quota system has, without doubt, potential for the future. However, it has been spun as an instant answer to discards. At this point it is not. It is absolutely clear from those who participated in the trials to date that unless there are changes to the present TAC and quota rules, then it will simply not work overall in either reducing discards or in improving the commercial position of the whitefish fleet. There is much immediate development work to be done by industry, government and the European Commission.”

Meanwhile, there was some better news for North Sea whiting following a challenge on the initial scientific evidence and the putting forward of a new management plan by Coby Needle of Marine Scotland Science and Chris Darby of CEFAS. The resultant review led the EU and Norway agreeing a 15% increase 2011.

“We would like to thank Coby Needle and Chris Darby for their excellent work in formulating a new management plan for North Sea whiting,” said Armstrong.

Similarly, a reassessment of the science for North Sea herring has resulted in a 21% increase for 2011.

“Whilst there are elements of good news in this agreement, overall the situation is very grim with further cuts being imposed on a Scottish whitefish fleet that is seriously financially pressed. The Scottish and UK governments must do everything in their power to mitigate the extent of these cuts at the final EU Fish Council meeting coming up shortly and give our industry a fighting chance for survival,” Armstrong said.

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