Fish­ing boats, boats for fish­ing: quo­tas, marine pro­tec­tion and life

The Oban Times - - Leisure -

IN THE early years of the 21st cen­tury some of Scot­land’s fish­er­men were en­cour­aged to de­com­mis­sion their boats. This was an ex­er­cise to pro­tect fish stocks by lim­it­ing the num­ber and ca­pac­ity of ves­sels in com­mer­cial fish­ing op­er­a­tions. It seemed like a dras­tic mea­sure at the time: the Euro­pean Union in­sisted on per­fectly ser­vice­able boats be­ing bro­ken up, rather than sent to other parts of the world or used for pur­poses other than fish­ing. Own­ers were com­pen­sated, and skip­pers and crews moved to work on larger boats, found work ashore or re­tired.

The ma­jor­ity – more than 60 per cent – of the UK’s to­tal catch is landed at Scot­tish ports, many of them in re­mote ru­ral or is­land lo­ca­tions and of­ten fish­ing has been the main­stay of em­ploy­ment. Un­cer­tainty, leg­is­la­tion, bu­reau­cracy and re­stric­tion in one form or another have be­lea­guered the in­dus­try in re­cent years and the Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy (CFP) has had par­tic­u­larly harsh con­se­quences for the Scot­tish cod, haddock and whit­ing fish­eries in Scot­land. All coun­tries in the Euro­pean Union with fish­eries have ex­clu­sive rights out to a six-mile limit and a 12-mile limit for some parts of the coast­line ef­fec­tively block­ing for­eign ves­sels from fish­ing in in­shore wa­ters, but not out to the 200-mile limit of ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters which can be fished by boats from other states.

The CFP may have been un­pop­u­lar, but re­search by the Marine Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety and the Univer­sity of York in 2010 in­di­cated that the de­cline in fish stocks in UK wa­ters oc­curred be­fore the pol­icy was in­tro­duced, and that many fish stocks have grown since 2002. Even cod is re­cov­er­ing and could be­come a sus­tain­able fish­ery within a year. The prac­tice of dis­card­ing un­wanted catches is be­ing phased out and na­tional and species quo­tas ad­justed to achieve sus­tain­abil­ity of all stocks by 2020.

Fish­ing quo­tas for in­di­vid­ual boats are not de­ter­mined by the EU. The to­tal catch lim­its are de­cided by the Euro­pean Coun­cil of Fish­eries Min­is­ters, but each mem­ber state is re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing al­lo­ca­tions across the fish­ing fleet.

The prospect of the UK leav­ing the EU presents the fish­ing in­dus­try with fur­ther un­cer­tainty.

There is no guar­an­tee that the UK will have con­trol over fish stocks be­cause most com­mer­cial species move around a great deal, in­clud­ing in and out of a close clus­ter of Ex­clu­sive Eco­nomic Zones. Scot­land and the rest of the United King­dom will still have to share catches with for­eign ves­sels or face pro­hi­bi­tion on fish­ing in the wa­ters of re­main­ing mem­ber states.

To­day, one fifth of the fish caught by UK boats is landed in other parts of the EU, in­clud­ing the Repub­lic of Ire­land. Four-fifths of the com­bined UK catch is ex­ported to coun­tries in the Euro­pean Union.

At the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, 2.5 mil­lion bar­rels of her­ring a year were ex­ported to the con­ti­nent, much of the catch com­ing from the drifters and ring-net­ters op­er­at­ing in Loch Fyne. To­day there is al­most no do­mes­tic mar­ket for her­ring but the pop­u­lar­ity of mack­erel on the con­ti­nent tempted some fish­er­men to un­der-report land­ings.

This led to pros­e­cu­tion by the Scot­tish Fish­eries Pro­tec­tion Agency, now Marine Scot­land, and quota re­duc­tions were im­posed in rec­om­pense.

The num­ber of boats fish­ing for cod and haddock has halved in the last 20 years, and much of the Scot­tish fleet is now en­gaged in fish­ing for nephrops, bet­ter known as lan­gous­tine or scampi; lobster and var­i­ous species of crab.

Sig­nif­i­cant land­ings are made by smaller boats fish­ing in the wa­ters off the West Coast.

Some tra­di­tional grounds are af­fected by Marine Pro­tected Area (MPA) des­ig­na­tion which im­poses re­stric­tions on cer­tain types of com­mer­cial fish­ing ac­tiv­ity depend­ing on the habi­tats and species un­der pro­tec­tion.

The re­cent clo­sure of two of Scot­land’s large fish pro­cess­ing plants is un­der­stood to be an in­dus­try re­sponse to falls in white­fish stocks and dif­fi­cul­ties in re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing pro­cess­ing work­ers in sparsely pop­u­lated, iso­lated com­mu­ni­ties.

Th­ese chal­lenges, com­bined with an ever- de­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple em­ployed in the in­dus­try in­evitably have an im­pact on the avail­abil­ity and the price of fish so con­sumers face un­cer­tainty too.

The sus­tain­abil­ity of stocks and the out­come of rene­go­ti­at­ing ter­ri­to­rial rights have never been more im­por­tant for the fu­ture of Scot­land’s fish­ing in­dus­try and the many com­mu­ni­ties that de­pend upon it.

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