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 Sunday, 22 December, 2002, 01:57 GMT
Vigil held for fishing industry
Cod Crusaders light candles
Cod Crusaders want the prime minister to intervene
Hundreds of campaigners have staged a candlelit vigil to highlight the plight of the Scottish fishing industry after European ministers agreed swingeing cuts in North Sea quotas.

The deal done in Brussels will reduce cod catches by 45% and limit vessels to 15 days at sea each month.

The Scottish National Party has called on Britain's fishing ministers to explain why they voted for the proposals.

People face losing everything, even what pride we have left

Carol MacDonald
Cod Crusader
Fishermen fear the deal will cost thousands of jobs and devastate fishing communities.

About 250 people gathered at Fraserburgh fish market on Saturday evening to hold a vigil for the fishing industry.

Those in attendance included Carol MacDonald, the leader of the Cod Crusaders.

She said 40 distress flares were being set off as a message to the government about the plight of the industry.

"We have got one month before these measures are implemented to get Tony Blair's assistance, because he is the only one who can bail us out now," said Mrs McDonald.

Defy restrictions

"We are being stripped of 75% of our income. People face losing everything, even what pride we have left.

"We need to show Scotland is on the map, because half the time our prime minister doesn't even know we exist."

She claimed that fishermen would go out to sea in defiance of the restrictions if the cuts were imposed fishermen.

Cod quotas have been slashed
Mrs McDonald also warned that they may even block the English channel in protest.

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond and the party's fisheries spokesman, Richard Lochhead, were among those who took part in the vigil.

Mr Salmond said: "Every other fisheries minister managed to emerge with their fleet intact.

"I would say the mood is one of anger and grim resolution. It was an initial shock that our representatives could agree to such a stitch-up."

Mr Lochhead said the agreement reached on Friday, after five days of talks, was "a disaster" for Scotland's fishing fleet.

"It sounds the death knell for an industry that employs tens of thousands of people and supports the economy of communities across Scotland," he said.

"Ross Finnie has to explain why the UK delegation voted in favour of such a disastrous deal.

'Best deal'

"He has come home spinning furiously that he got a compromise, but the reality, as any fisherman will tell you, is that he has come home carrying the industry's death warrant."

Mr Finnie admitted after the talks that he was frustrated not to secure a better deal for Scotland's fishermen.

But he said: "I am in no doubt we got the best deal possible."

Ministers will meet fishing industry leaders next week to discuss the impact of the quota cuts.

The agreement
UK white fish vessels restricted to 15 days at sea each month
45% cut in cod catches from 49,300 tonnes to 27,300 tonnes
50% cut in haddock catches from 104,000 tonnes to 51,000 tonnes
60% cut in whiting catches from 41,000 tonnes to 16,000 tonnes
A spokesman for Mr Finnie said: "There is no set way of achieving the outcome agreed in Brussels, so we don't know how this will actually affect the industry yet.

"It could be by reducing the number of days of catching or the amount of catching or the size of the fleet.

"We have to sit down with fishermen and see what would be best before we can work out what the impact of cuts are and what aid we could make available."

Mr McConnell has already defended his fisheries minister, saying: "There is no doubt Ross Finnie has negotiated well for Scotland."

Despite the anger from fishing communities, environmentalists have warned that the cuts do not go far enough.

  BBC Scotland's Eric Crockart
"Businesses in Fraserburgh are bracing themselves for the economic fall-out"

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21 Dec 02 | Scotland
20 Dec 02 | Scotland
19 Dec 02 | Europe
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