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