Page last updated at 14:37 GMT, Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Fishing for common future at sea

By Craig Anderson
BBC Scotland news


Prawn fishermen warn that their livelihoods are coming under threat

When European fisheries ministers gather in Brussels this week they may be tempted to raise a glass in celebration.

After all, it's the 25th anniversary of the creation of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, an agreement designed to manage fishing across the waters of all member states.

Back in 1983, as a young newspaper reporter based in Brussels, I yawned my way through the all-night ministerial sitting that eventually gave birth to the CFP.

The champagne corks popped. This was a new dawn. No more squabbling over fishing rights, no more arguments about 12-mile or 200-mile limits, no more declining fish stocks.

Fishermen's leaders argue that the 300 small boats that fish for prawns off the west coast cannot physically work with these devices
The fishing policy has been in force ever since but sadly the arguments have continued. So has the decline in both the quantity of fish in our seas and the size of fishing fleets across the EU.

A few days ago I steamed out of Mallaig aboard the prawn trawler the Amethyst in the genial company of skipper Donnie MacKinnon.

He says a European proposal to make prawn fishermen modify their nets could force him to give up fishing altogether.

The measure is intended to protect threatened stocks of white fish off the west of Scotland by introducing metal grids into prawn nets which would allow young cod and haddock to escape.

But fishermen's leaders argue that the 300 small boats that fish for prawns off the west coast cannot physically work with these devices and if they are made compulsory then the fleet would have no option but to tie up as from 1 January.

Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead agrees, having branded the plan "outrageous". In Brussels he'll also fight proposals to outlaw all fishing for cod, haddock and whiting off the west coast for a year.

Fishing boat
Threats to stocks have seen harsh measures being considered
The Scottish Government and the fishermen concede that stocks of white fish off the west of Scotland are dangerously low.

But they argue that alternative conservation measures could protect these species without penalising the prawn fishermen and putting them out of business.

Up to 2,000 jobs are at stake both at sea and in on-shore processing, with dozens of small communities from Shetland to Stranraer relying on prawn fishing.

Aboard the Amethyst crewman Donnie Kennedy describes the scientists who've put forward these conservation ideas as "numpties".

A man who has spent 44 years as a fisherman, his first description was unprintable.

So happy birthday Common Fisheries Policy! This week will see hours of negotiations and horse-trading and no doubt another all-night session.

Twenty-five years on, the policy has so far failed to curb the arguments, failed to stop the decline in fish stocks, failed to maintain the size of fishing fleets.

Later this week EU ministers will conclude another annual agreement amid much back-slapping and shaking of hands. But perhaps they should keep the champagne on ice.

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