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Conservation Key To Days At Sea

SCOTLAND, UK - A deal done after two days of frenzied negotiations in Brussels has secured the future of Scotland's fishing fleet - but further improvements could not be implemented due to legal red tape, Scotland's Fishing Minister Richard Lochhead told MSPs.

Mr Lochhead said while it was a tremendous success and testament to the intensive work by the Scottish and UK Government's that the Commissioner confirmed she would adopt our interpretation of the now infamous 'Article 13' of the cod recovery plan, it was incredibly frustrating that on a separate days at sea issue, Scottish and UK officials looked to have secured a freeze on the cod recovery plan annual reductions right up until the eleventh hour, when the Commission admitted they had been unsuccessful in finding a legal way to deliver it.

The Minister highlighted that the Article 13 result was crucially important on two fronts.

Firstly, had the Commission not accepted our interpretation, the cuts to days at sea would have been devastating for Scotland's fleet.

But secondly, in relation to the annual days at sea reductions imposed through the cod recovery plan, this clause is extremely important as it allows our fishermen to top the number of days they can go to sea back up to previous levels, if they take measures to improve stock conservation by avoiding cod and reducing discards.

MSPs were also updated on quota changes. Highlighted in particular were significant increased quotas for west coast haddock (200 per cent), west coast nephrops (three per cent), north sea haddock (15 per cent), north sea whiting (15 per cent) and north sea herring (94 per cent).

Mr Lochhead said: "Last week's fishing talks delivered increased and sustainable quotas in some of our key stocks as well as a dramatic turnaround on the Article 13 days at sea debacle. Both of these significant wins are really good news for the future of fishing in Scotland."

"There is no doubt the consequences for Scotland's fishing communities if the Commission had not accepted our interpretation of Article 13 would have been extremely dire. Boats would have been tied up, livelihood's would have been lost and thriving communities would have had the heart ripped out of them.

"For too long common sense has been replaced by the common fisheries policy (CFP) - next year's reforms can't come soon enough. It is hugely frustrating that we need to spend so much time and energy simply to ensure that such highly damaging and unjustified measures are not applied. Lawyers appear to be running the show to the detriment of conservation and the fishing industry.

"The Commission admitted the Cod Recovery Plan (CRP) isn't working but a call from many Member States for a pause in the annual automatic cuts in days at sea wasn't possible because they could not find a legal way to implement it.

"It is utterly ridiculous that our fishermen miss out on having the basic number of days they can go to sea in a year maintained simply because of a legal matter. Science and stock levels are the only credible reasons that should prevent this.

"However, it is important to recognise that the other key benefit to having won the Article 13 debate, is that we can negate the impact of that legal block by using Article 13 to 'buy back' days at sea and top up the number to previous levels through the Conservation Credits Scheme.

"This means that as long as our fishermen take adequate steps to avoid cod and increase conservation, they can continue to go to sea for as many days as previous years.

"This should not be unpalatable and is achievable. Our Scottish Conservation Credits Scheme is proof of what can be done, with various methods being used to avoid cod including some vessels also using more selective fishing gear to avoid catching undersized fish. Our catch quota scheme also shows how we can remove less fish from the sea yet land more to market.

"Reducing high discard rates is also very important and we must do more to bring our discard rates down. Scotland has seen the greatest reductions in North Sea cod discards achieved in the EU and while we still have more to do this shows the impact Scottish measures can have on stock conservation.

"Scotland has always led the way in putting in place incentive based conservation measures which will protect our fish stocks. However, we cannot rest on our laurels - the buck does not just stop with the Commission when it comes to self-assessing and continuing to make improvements. Scotland has led the way on conservation over the past few years. Now is the time for us all to consider what more we can do. And this will require the continuing co-operation and commitment of our fishermen."

Lucy Towers

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