Urgent prawn fishing action considered

The Scottish Government has said it is considering urgent action to address exceptionally high levels of prawn fishing activities in the West of Scotland.

Recent months have seen a shift of vessels that normally fish for prawns in the North Sea, where prawns have been scarce this year, moving to the West causing much greater fishing activity than expected.‪

While quota is projected to last the year and overall prawn fishing is at a similar level to 2011 and 2010, the displacement means the annual ‘time at sea’ constraints for the West Coast will be breached without action being taken. This would result in the early closure of the fishery.

Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said, "We want to do all we can to ensure that fishermen can catch their quotas, however the unprecedented prawn fishing pressures in the West has put that at risk. Therefore I've instructed my officials to urgently explore measures to remedy the situation.

“Biological factors mean that prawns have been late appearing in the North Sea – but EU measures as part of the Cod Recovery Plan are too inflexible to make allowances for this unexpected development.

"Clearly we want to see West Coast fishermen able to fish their local waters, therefore we are proposing to temporarily restrict access for North Sea vessels so that a full year's fishery in the west can be maintained. This will mean the fleet has the time to catch its full quota.”

Transfer of effort
However, Alan Coghill, president of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has responded to this, saying: “This is a problem directly related to the discredited Cod Plan which is meant to restrict the catching of cod but is being applied to a sector which has taken strenuous efforts this year to reduce discards of cod and other fish. Extensive gear trials have been undertaken involving industry and government which have succeeded in producing gears which have vastly reduced unwanted catches by the Scottish fleet.

“An acknowledgement of this positive achievement would be a transfer of effort from the North Sea where stocks appear to have declined from previous levels, to West of Scotland where stocks have improved after some disappointing years. The fleet has quota to catch and businesses to sustain resulting in the change of emphasis from East to West.”

He said that the issue has been aggravated by IT delays in the collation of information on the amount of current fishing effort for prawns on the West Coast. He also said that policies and measures need to be in place to ensure that fishery can be worked in a proper fashion that enables businesses to plan ahead and fish profitably and sustainably.

“This situation underlines the need for both the UK and the Scottish government to vigorously restate the case for reviewing and amending the Cod Plan before the end of 2012. The present situation is a prime example of a regulatory process which does not work and is likely to cause major economic and social problems across the industry from net to plate”, said Mr Coghill.

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