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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 December, 2004, 10:02 GMT
Skippers cheer fish catch deal
Fisheries Minister Ross Finnie
Scottish fishermen are happy with the deal brokered by Ross Finnie
Fishermen in Scotland have welcomed a deal struck by European fisheries ministers at the end of all-night negotiations in Brussels.

A European Commission (EC) plan to close fishing grounds in the North Sea next year has been abandoned.

A second proposal, to reduce the number of days fishermen can spend at sea, was altered in such a way that it will not affect most of the Scottish fleet.

Holyrood Fishing Minister Ross Finnie spoke of the deal's "flexibility".

The negotiations ended favourably for Scotland in the early hours of Wednesday morning after European fisheries ministers spent Tuesday night drawing up the rules for 2005.

It's a considerable tribute to ministers and officials that they have been able to turn this situation around in the way that they have
Hamish Morrison
Scottish Fishermen's Federation

Under the agreement, a controversial haddock permit system which was in force last year has been dropped, the North Sea cod quota remains unchanged and there will not be a reduction in days at sea.

Mr Finnie pointed out that the widespread use of 120mm mesh nets by Scottish vessels to protect juvenile fish was instrumental in avoiding a cut in fishing days.

The UK ministerial team also managed to gain a 12% increase in quotas for prawn caught off the west coast and a 50% rise in the amount of monkfish caught in the North Sea off the north and north west of Scotland.

However, some cod fishing grounds off the west coast of Scotland will be closed as part of conservation measures to protect significantly reduced stocks within the region.

'Depths of despair'

Fishermen's leaders expressed relief at the outcome of the negotiations.

Scottish Fishermen's Federation chief executive Hamish Morrison said: "This time yesterday we really were in the depths of despair with the proposals that were coming forward at that stage.

"It's a considerable tribute to ministers and officials that they have been able to turn this situation around in the way that they have.

From the outset we resisted the commission's unfair and unworkable proposals to close vast areas of the sea to our fleet
Ross Finnie
Fisheries Minister

"Over a long period of this year we've worked very closely with ministers and officials to rehearse where we both stood on each particular issue so we all went to these negotiations singing from the same hymn sheet.

"But let's not get too carried away.

"The industry has come a long, long way down. This is not rebuilding - this is just stopping the rot."

Mr Finnie said: "The steps taken by Scotland's fishing industry to conserve stocks were an important factor in this negotiation.

"From the outset we resisted the commission's unfair and unworkable proposals to close vast areas of the sea to our fleet.

"The key feature of this agreement is the flexibility it restores to fishermen who can now decide where to fish.

"The benefits of greater flexibility offset the loss of additional days that were available under the permit scheme.

Cod boxes
North Sea cod grounds will remain open under the new deal

"We recognise that a reduction in days on the west coast will have an economic impact but this takes account of the serious state of the stock and comes in the face of proposals on closed areas and more severe cuts in days at sea.

"In the face of very difficult negotiations we have secured a deal that delivers on our priorities and maintains effective conservation measures."

Despite the positive reaction from within the industry, conservationists condemned the abandonment of closed fishing areas by the EC.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Scotland claims they are the only way fishing stocks around the country will be able to recover.

Conservation challenge

The body put the blame for not adopting the plans at the feet of EU fishing ministers and challenged them to meet in the new year to discuss introducing them.

Its marine policy officer Helen McLachlan said: "We can only assume the commission withdrew its proposals in response to a lack of support from member states.

"This reflects poorly on member states and their unwillingness to adopt such key measures in the name of fish stock recovery.

"Only by massive increase in political will to solve the fisheries crisis are we likely to achieve recovery of depleted stocks."

But Mr Finnie dismissed this argument and said it was a disappointing response to the talks.

This is by no means a brilliant result.
Ted Brocklebank
Scottish Tories

He said: "In recent weeks I've made it absolutely clear that you cannot ignore using closed areas or partially closed areas as part of conservation measures.

"But these have to be scientifically based and I've always made it clear that my objection to the proposals by the commission was quite specific as it was not backed back scientific analysis.

"I think that criticism is misdirected."

The Scottish National Party cautiously welcomed the deal but claimed it could have gone further.

Speaking in Brussels, the party's fisheries spokesman Richard Lochhead said: "The SNP share the industry's relief there was no repeat of last year's ambushes that left our fishing communities reeling.

"However, this deal is no bed of roses, despite the welcome removal of many of the more draconian restrictions which will make life easier for some parts of the fleet.

'Part-time fishery'

"There is little reward for the enormous sacrifices made by Scotland in recent years, such as the scrapping of half the white fish fleet.

"Our fishermen remain stuck on 15 days a month, effectively a part-time fishery."

Tory fisheries spokesman Ted Brocklebank carried on in the same vein and added: "This is by no means a brilliant result.

"Essentially it leaves our white fish fleet in the same position as last year.

"Although ministers drew back from closure areas this year, there is still the potential for closed cod zones depending on the scientific advice."

'Political lobbying'

The Green Party claimed Mr Finnie had put the long-term security of fishing communities in jeopardy and found the SNP and Tories guilty of exploiting the issue for political gain.

Marine environment spokesman Robin Harper said: "The problem of depleting cod stocks is not going to magically disappear - it will continue and worsen so long as ministers continue to disregard scientific advice on closed areas.

"Regulation based on long-term sustainability, scientific advice including responsible input from the industry and EU-wide co-ordination is the only way forward - and those that dispute that, namely the SNP and Tories, are guilty of misguided political lobbying.

"There needs to be much more emphasis on allocating socio-economic aid to communities while enabling stocks to recover."


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