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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 March, 2004, 16:09 GMT
Leaders clash over fishing report
Cod on trawler
Fish was on the menu at First Minister's Questions
First Minister Jack McConnell has appeared to rule out any further decommissioning to reduce the size of Scotland's fishing fleet.

A recommendation for further cuts came after research on the fishing industry was undertaken by the prime minister's strategy unit.

Mr McConnell's support for the industry came in a heated Holyrood exchange with Nationalist leader John Swinney.

He said: "We have no current plans for further decommissioning."

He also told the SNP leader the strategy unit report laid out the need for a sustainable and profitable industry "that may well require to be slightly smaller than it is today - but that would not necessarily require decommissioning to get to that stage".

The strategy unit recommendations dominated Thursday's First Minister's Questions, which Mr Swinney began by recalling that Rural Development Minister Ross Finnie had said on 14 January that he was not contemplating any further decommissioning.

"This morning the Downing Street strategy unit recommended a 13% cut in the size of the fleet and called for a further 30% of the fleet to go bankrupt by tying them up for four years without any public support," said Mr Swinney.

"How does the first minister reconcile Mr Finnie's remarks in January with this morning's devastating report?"

Mr McConnell responded: "Because we have no current plans for further decommissioning, and we are not contemplating that."

International borders

Scots Tory leader David McLetchie called for the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy to be scrapped and for Scotland to determine access to its own waters.

He said: "The regional management scheme which is being proposed by the strategy unit cannot disguise the fact the European Union will still determine who can fish, where we fish, when we fish, what we fish and how we fish, and is that not the fundamental problem that needs to be addressed?"

However, Mr McConnell insisted the CFP existed because the industry and the seas crossed international borders.

The CFP would now allow proper regional management, devolving decision-making to regions and local fishing industries to help ensure they were "sustainable and profitable for the longer term" he added.

But Mr McLetchie said: "The first minister seems to forget that long before the Common Fisheries Policy, fish were swimming around the North Sea and elsewhere and crossing borders, and that countries managed to regulate access agreements on an historic basis without having them determined centrally by Brussels, and that is the fundamental issue here - who should determine access and control."

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