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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 04:21 GMT
Minister grilled on fish catches
Fishing boats in Eyemouth
Boats can only fish 15 days a month
Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley has defended severe cuts to white fish catches after being questioned by MSPs on Tuesday.

It is only the second time a UK government minister has appeared before a Scottish Parliament committee.

The white fish fleet has been banned from spending more than 15 days a month at sea.

Quotas for cod, haddock and whiting have been halved.

These tough conservation measures were agreed by European ministers in December.

Mr Morley took the lead role in negotiating the deal on behalf of the UK.

Following the cuts some in the industry accused him of "betrayal" and demanded his resignation.

Appearing before Holyrood's rural affairs committee, he said he could not ignore scientific warnings of a collapse in cod stocks.

'Harsh measures'

He said: "What we sought to do was maximise the opportunities, while respecting science.

"Taking a position that was credible in relation to the minimum we could do without risking the recovery of the actual stocks."

The minister was criticised by Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles over the compensation agreed with the fishing industry.

But Mr Morley said there was no "pot of money" to apply for.

John Farnell, of the European Commission's directorate general of fisheries, said 33m was available to help Scotland's fishing industry.

He told MSPs the cash was part of a 56m funding package - 23m of which had already been spent - for fish processing, aquaculture and port installations.

'Totally outflanked'

"These measures are harsh and of course it means hardship for the communities. But the alternative is far worse," he said.

"Not intervening now will simply mean there will be commercial extinction of the fish stocks on which these communities depend."

Scottish Fisheries Minister Ross Finnie also appeared before the committee.

MSPs want assurances on long term conservation plans and more on a 50m package promised by the Scottish Executive.

Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland, Tavish Scott, said he wanted to know why more was not done to lobby European governments before December's decision on quota cuts.

The fishing communities have been hopelessly let down and betrayed by one of the most inept performances of negotiation in living memory
Alex Salmond
Scottish National Party

Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party MP for Banff and Buchan, criticised ministers.

He said: "The fishing communities have been hopelessly let down and betrayed by one of the most inept performances of negotiation in living memory.

"Ask why there was no preparation, why they were totally outflanked and why nothing was done to separate the haddock and whiting quota where the scientific evidence does not justify anything like a 50% cut.

"That could have been salvation for the Scottish fleet this year."



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