Hake boom could ‘choke’ Scot­tish fish­ing in­dus­try

Ex­clu­sive: Shift in species’ dis­tri­bu­tion and dis­cards ban putting fleets at risk

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - NEWS - BY KEITH FIND­LAY

Scot­land’s fish­ing fleet is fac­ing a “crit­i­cal” risk which could force boats out of busi­ness or scup­per the EU-wide ban on dis­cards, it has been claimed.

Ru­ral Econ­omy Sec­re­tary Fer­gus Ewing de­liv­ered the warn­ing as he urged the UK Govern­ment to take ac­tion.

Writ­ing to his coun­ter­part at West­min­ster, Ge­orge Eus­tice, Mr Ewing said there was a “his­toric mis­match” with cur­rent North Sea hake quota that could stop boats go­ing to sea.

Mr Ewing said he was seek­ing the UK min­is­ter’s

“A his­toric mis­match with cur­rent North Sea hake quota”

sup­port to iden­tify and de­velop a “timely so­lu­tion” to avoid vessels hav­ing to tie up, or po­ten­tially break dis­card ban rules dur­ing 2019.

Hake is one of the so­called “choke” species which can fill up trawl nets and force vessels back into port be­cause they can no longer dump fish over­board.

In his let­ter to Mr Eus­tice, Mr Ewing said: “Hake is taken as an un­avoid­able by-catch in the North Sea had­dock fish­ery and since the year 2000 catches have con­sis­tently ex­ceeded quota.

“This is be­cause for around two decades, only 3% of the global to­tal al­low­able catch has been al­lo­cated to the North Sea, whereas sci­en­tific ev­i­dence points to the fact that the stock has ex­panded into north­ern ar­eas and shifted its dis­tri­bu­tion.

“More is now found in the North Sea than has his­tor­i­cally been the case.

“This mis­match be­tween his­toric dis­tri­bu­tion of quota and cur­rent dis­tri­bu­tion of fish cre­ates a crit­i­cal choke risk for which a so­lu­tion needs ur­gently to be found to avoid Scot­tish vessels be­ing tied up early in the year.”

Cur­rent flex­i­bil­ity in the dis­card ban rules “do not pro­vide an an­swer” to the hake prob­lem, although fish­ing pol­icy chiefs in Brus­sels are open to in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions, Mr Ewing said.

He added:“As things stand cur­rently, the Scot­tish fleet will be un­able to im­ple­ment the land­ing obli­ga­tion (dis­card ban) in 2019 without ty­ing up pre­ma­turely.

“Without fur­ther ac­tion on the part of the (Euro­pean) com­mis­sion and the UK Govern­ment, the land­ings obli­ga­tion will fail in 2019.

“I find it hard to be­lieve that the com­mis­sion will not want to rec­tify this is­sue, know­ing as they do that it will se­ri­ously dam­age the cred­i­bil­ity of the anti-dis­card pol­icy.”

Mr Ewing also de­manded to know what the in­dus­try should do if there is no progress on the choke species prob­lem

BLOCK: More hake are be­ing caught, fill­ing up trawl nets with fish that can­not then be dis­carded

The sup­port of Ge­orge Eus­tice, left, on the hake by-catch prob­lem is be­ing sought by Fer­gus Ewing, right

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