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Last Updated: Monday, 12 January, 2004, 14:24 GMT
Fishing leaders snub quota deal
Cod in ice
Fishing leaders want more days at sea
Scottish fishermen's leaders have decided to breach European fishing restrictions agreed last month.

The Scottish White Fish Producers' Association (SWFPA) said its members will go to sea for 24 days a month, instead of the 15-day agreed limit.

A spokesman for EU fisheries commissioner Franz Fischler described the move "highly irresponsible".

The skippers said they were also prepared to go to court to challenge the Brussels deal, agreed in December.

Fishing leaders met in Banff on Monday to discuss plans for their protest.

We will be breaking the law, but we will be doing it to save the cod and to save the fleet
Mike Park
SWFPA
Mike Park, of the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association, said that the time had come to bring matters to a head and they were prepared to go to court to challenge the new European regulations.

He told BBC Scotland: "We will be breaking the law, but essentially we have the industry to protect.

"We were promised by the government if we decommissioned vessels things would be good in future, but here we are, by the ministers own admission, another 40% of the fleet must go bankrupt.

"We now hope the government will go out and renegotiate a new deal to save us breaking the law, but essentially we will be breaking the law, but we will be doing it to save the cod and to save the fleet."

Industry decommissioning

Quota talks aimed at conserving stocks finished in December with catches of cod and hake frozen at 2002 levels.

The North Sea fishing fleet was told it could catch 30% more prawns and 53% more haddock but they were restricted to 15 days at sea per month and the restrictions cut no ice with the Scottish industry.

Mr Park said that the 15 days at sea rule made no sense, given that 170 fishing vessels had been decommissioned.

Gregor Kreuzhuber, the EU spokesman for Mr Fischler, said the fishermen's position could endanger a recovery for cod.

It would be very foolish to get into some kind of confrontational position
Ross Finnie
Fisheries minister

"Blatantly ignoring what was decided by all the member states, for the sake of the fishermen and the stocks, in December last year, is highly irresponsible and unreasonable," he said.

"At the end of the day no fish means no fishermen and 15 days at sea also factors in the decommissioning the Scottish fleet has done and we appreciate these efforts.

"Contrary to scientific advice to completely stop fishing in these areas, we have negotiated 15 days at sea and this has to be respected, if not we will see further decline of the stocks in the years to come."

'No renegotiation'

Mr Kreuzhuber added that the prospect of renegotiating the deal agreed in Brussels was "technically impossible" and "politically undesirable".

Scottish Fisheries Minister Ross Finnie said he was reluctant to be drawn into any confrontation with fishermen.

"I understand they are feeling very upset about this," he said.

"There were a range of issues raised with me at the meeting on Thursday, I undertook to examine them very closely, and that is what I am doing.

"Once I have done that I will go back to them. It would be very foolish to get into some kind of confrontational position in the middle of the week - that would not be sensible."

Fishermen
Skippers have threatened to ignore restrictions
Asked if there was any prospect of an increase in the number of days permitted at sea the minister said: "I think that's less likely, but I don't wish to close options."

Scottish National Party (SNP) fisheries spokesman Richard Lochhead said the SWFPA's decision showed the level of discontent among Scottish fishermen.

Mr Lochhead said: "Ministers were foolish enough to expect the white fish fleet to take this unjust and unworkable deal lying down."

Mr Lochhead said it was now up to ministers at Westminster and Holyrood to resolve the dispute.

And Tory fisheries spokesman Ted Brocklebank said he understood why fishermen were being driven to desperate measures, but would not back the move.

"I cannot condone breaking the law and I urge them to consider using every legal means at their disposal and for our ministers to get back to the negotiating table to get a better deal for Scotland," he said.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
BBC Scotland's Colin Wight
"Fishermen say the Brussels' deal was disastrous"



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