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Welcome Increase in Value of Scottish Catch

SCOTLAND - The Scottish Government provisional figures for the fishing industry in the country in 2009 show a 12 per cent increase in value of fish landed by Scottish vessels.

"This is of course welcomed. The breakdown in figures showed that one sector – the midwater or pelagic segment - had a healthy uplift for its mainstay stock of mackerel," Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said.

"In contrast the Scottish langoustine or prawn fleet suffered a correspondingly unhealthy drop of 15% in value. Landing prices are not the whole story, operating costs have to be met and fuel prices also moved up steadily in 2009 from an early low.

“The statistics also show that the number of vessels and people employed in fishing moved down a little, although the generalised figures mask regional differences, with the west coast faring least well compared with the average.

“The most important issue of course is not the history of 2009 but rather how 2010 is unfolding and future prospects, which is an entirely different story.

“The price of fuel continues upward, with the average to date in 2010 being about $70, compared with around $53 for last year.

“The Scottish pelagic sector, which according to these figures had the brightest year in 2009, also has a cloud from Iceland hanging over it in the shape of their ridiculously bad behaviour in overcatching mackerel, which is a mainstay stock for Scotland. Difficult international negotiations to resolve this situation have stalled and are due to resume next weekend.

“There is also a real change in fishing opportunity across the two other major sectors of whitefish and Scottish Langoustine. Catching opportunity, in the form of quota and days at sea to catch it, are both reduced for 2010, with the prospect of further reductions in 2011. This amounts to an issue of survival for some fleet sectors and areas, with the west coast particularly hard-pressed.

“There are a number of other important factors at play. Under EU rules, quota overall is to be deliberately moved in a downward direction, with the laudable intention of ecological health of the various stocks, but the gap between the rules applied and the abundance found by the fishermen is wide.

“This must be challenged and we must also move at a pace that ensures industry survival. Regarding days at sea – reductions in this are part of the EU plan for cod - the Scottish industry has tried as hard as it can, often at considerable sacrifice to meet the management aim of lower cod catches by means other than reduction of time at sea. For example, over 150 closed areas were imposed over the course of the year and a serious amount of development work and innovation is being applied to more selective nets. We are now nearing, or are at, the limits of what can be achieved by our own initiatives and a reassessment of the plan is an imperative requirement.

“The Scottish government announced only last weekend the launching of a scheme of combining licences and reducing the number of boats at sea, aimed at helping the surviving businesses. Details of this have yet to be finalised, but every combination will mean an exit for some from the industry, and careful management and consultation will be required for this process.

“In summary, the increased bottom line evident from the 2009 provisional figures is welcomed, but it is clear that there is a real job to be done in Edinburgh, London and Brussels in planning and regulating for the future. We must remember that the fishing industry supports the sustainable harvesting of a wonderful natural resource. We must not lose that.”

the Fish Site Editor

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