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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
Fishing restrictions to end
Fishing flotilla
Hundreds of vessels are set to return to sea
Hundreds of fishing vessels are preparing to sail from Scottish ports to take advantage of the imminent end of a ban on fishing in cod breeding areas.

The 10-week ban, which has kept vessels out of many traditional North Sea fishing grounds, ends at midnight on Monday.

But fishing leaders say the future of the Scottish fleet is still in doubt and are likely to renew calls for further compensation measures.

Last month, the Scottish Executive refused to give in to demands from Peterhead fishermen for a 10m aid package to allow them to continue with a voluntary tie-up scheme during the duration of the ban.

Rhona Brankin
Rhona Brankin refused fishermens' claims for compensation
The temporary 10-week ban was agreed earlier this year by the European Union (EU) and Norway to help preserve dwindling cod stocks.

Huge areas of the North Sea, traditionally used by the Scottish fleet, were closed off in an attempt to protect breeding grounds and boost future stocks of white fish.

But the ban quickly led to confrontation and hundreds of Scottish skippers, mainly from Peterhead, tied up their vessels in protest.

They said the ban was doing more harm than good and was forcing them to fish in areas abundant with juvenile haddock.

The Peterhead skippers undertook a voluntary tie-up scheme and lobbied the Scottish Executive for a compensation package of 10m.

No compensation

After weeks of wrangling they looked to have secured a deal when the executive was defeated in the Scottish Parliament on a motion which supported compensation.

But the executive regrouped one week later and held out against calls for payments amid claims that it was denying the will of parliament.

Fisheries Minister Rhona Brankin said the executive's 25m package for decommissioning and restructuring remained the best way of securing the industry's future

Hamish Morrison
Hamish Morrison is opposed to larger mesh sizes for nets
She also said that fishermen should follow scientific advice and deploy their nets differently in a bid to reduce the catching of undersized fish.

As the debate raged on, fishermen ended their voluntary tie-up scheme and returned to sea.

Now, as they prepare to revisit previously restricted areas, they are being faced with a new conservation proposal.

The European Union is considering plans to enforce a large increase in mesh size for nets.

Hamish Morrison of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation has condemned the move and said it will bring further hardship to the industry.

He said larger mesh sizes will not help preserve cod and will make catching haddock and whiting almost impossible.

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