Benyon warned on ‘major battle for survival’

THE chief executive of Scotland’s leading fishermen’s association has warned UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon that his sector now faces a major battle for survival.

Mike Park, of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association, has also told the Minister at a meeting in Newcastle that the crucial need to win a rethink of damaging cod recovery policy must be moved up the UK Government’s negotiating agenda.

Mr Park said: “The Minister stated that his two principal points in terms of end of year negotiations were the need to retain 2015 as the timeline for maximum sustainable yield (MSY,) no sooner and the issue of the data-poor pressure of total allowable catch (TAC) setting.

“I made the point that the third key principle should be the Cod Recovery Plan and the defence of the industry against any further days-at-sea reductions.

“It was a key issue, Mr Benyon said it was rather more complicated in terms of political process that the other issues which were rather simple by comparison.”

But the Government’s ideas and approach were not for public consumption, the Minister added. Mr Benyon understood the need to get a suitable deal on West of Scotland (area VIA) haddock both in terms of the levels of catches and the issue of regaining targeted fishery status.

Mr Park also underlined that the present quota restriction on the West Coast meant that they currently have whitefish vessels changing fisheries (whitefish to Nephrops), and vessels on oil guard ship duty losing £1,000 per day in an attempt to keep crews working and the boats operational.

And he underlined his view that the issue of selectivity takes a back seat as the fight for short term survival takes over.

Referring to the forthcoming end of year talks, Mr Park added: “This is going to be a tough end of year encounter where industry will be required to play its part in supplying some the intelligence; SWFPA is well placed to assist that process with a wide range of key contacts.”

Meanwhile, arrangements are going ahead for the SWFPA to liaise with the UK Representation to the EU in Brussels.

Earlier Mr Park told the Buchan Observer that the European Commission are using “smoke-screen” tactics in a bid to push through even more cuts in the number of days that the fishing fleet can go to sea.

“Our members are extremely concerned at the proposed reduction in days which is driven by the automatic reduction in days as a consequence of cod recovery.

“This was emphasised at our committee meetings last Tuesday when those attending were in disbelief at the days’ proposals for 2012.”

Mr Park continued: “It is my opinion that the Commission is beginning to use the current power struggle between the European Parliament and the Fisheries Council as an excuse, a smoke screen, for dealing with issues such as the ill-fitting Cod Recovery Plan.”

Mr Park said that the white fish association will be meeting with Scottish Tory MEP Struan Stevenson later this week when the issue will be discussed.

“We are also in the process of arranging a meeting with Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead,” he added.

Mr Park underlined that the ongoing tightening of the cod recovery screw by the Commission had disastrous implications for both the Scottish white fish and prawn fleet and it was ironic that Scottish fishermen had been at the forefront of change aimed specifically at achieving cod recovery.

“Yet the central EU regulation fails to take that into account, reducing the number of days vessels can set to sea at the same rate for all, even those that catch few cod,” he said.

“We continue to commit to gear trials in an attempt to solve the problem although we need more time and money; it is difficult to be green while you’re in the red.”

Mr Park emphasised that there was no way that the projected round of days’ cuts envisaged by the Commission could be allowed to go through. The draconian policy, which had huge implications for ports like Peterhead and Fraserburgh, was he believed, being driven by blind dogma rather than a willingness on the part of Brussels to give deserved credit to an already hard-pressed Scottish industry where credit for effective conservation measures was long overdue.