Shetland based trawler Mizpah LK 173 was the victim of an attack by a UK-registered longliner Genesis FD 19 north of the Shetland islands
A Shetland based trawler, the Mizpah LK 173 was the victim of an unprovoked attack by a UK-registered longliner north of the Shetland islands in the early morning of Monday 28 June last.
Ross David Robertson and his crew were operating on traditional grounds north of the islands when they were confronted by the Genesis FD 19, a 30 metre 298 tonne longliner, who crossed the bow and came within three metres of the 25 metre Mizpah.
This is yet another episode in a series of incidents where Spanish-owned UK-flagged vessels have attempted to push traditional Scottish trawlers off their grounds.
In June 2020, the Spanish-owned German-registered gillnetter, Pesorsa Dos tried to damage the propellor of the Alison Kay LK 57 in attempt to drive the trawler of fishing grounds. Recently there has been a spate of incidents where local boats have been threatened.
These vessels have been accused of hunting in wolf packs in order to drive the Scottish fishing vessels out of the areas they are operating in. There are usually between six to eight of these vessels who can cover 100 square miles with their nets or longline sets.
On Monday morning, the Mizpah was trawling on their usual fishing grounds when they were confronted by the Genesis who claimed they were encroaching on an area where they had longlines set. The skipper of the Genesis crossed the bow of the Mizpah and then proceeded to run alongside the Mizpah sounding the boats horn and making precarious moves.
“We are trying to fish on grounds to suit our quota allocation but can’t get fishing because of these vicious wolf packs chasing us off. The seamen ship off these guys are totally horrendous. Put the fishing to the side on this matter, it’s the danger they put both vessels in that’s totally against the law,” says Ross.
Asked if he has experienced this before, Ross says that he has, and it is a growing concern for him and skippers across the fleet, but they are afraid that the authorities are not doing enough to protect the fleet and one day it will lead to a tragedy.
“Yes, it’s happening too often,” he said. “Last year another vessel did the same to us and I reported him to the Coastguard and MAIB but I didn’t hear any outcome, so I just presumed it was a waste of time.
“The Genesis would have been under 10 foot from us. It sounds far apart but when it’s hundreds of tonnes of steel going to collide it’s not far at all.
“They are totally impossible to work alongside, as they gang up and close off vast areas.
“We ask when they are going to move so we can get fishing the ground but then they refuse to answer and speak in very poor English.
“Most of them pick and choose when they can speak English. In my eyes I don’t think they are fit to be on the sea.”
Ross was towing when the incident occurred and says that the actions of the Genesis was a breach of Maritime Law when he crossed his bow and had to take action to avoid slamming into the Fleetwood-registered boat.
“In that situation he is classed as a power-driven vessel and has to give way to me as I am a fishing vessel trawling and basically restricted in my ability to manoeuvre.
“He came along side and followed us for a few miles before placing his vessel in front of us causing me to turn as hard as the boat could possibly go. If you turn the auto pilot too hard it goes around the compass and basically the boat would turn the other way. If that happened, we would definitely have been in his side.”
The Scottish demersal sector is under pressure since last year. COVID and a disastrous Brexit, along with a failed bilateral deal with Norway is pushing the industry closer to the edge. The influx of these UK flagged vessels and other EU-registered vessels have been migrating northwards.
“They are taking over the grounds we have worked for years. They’ve always been around but the problem is just growing, more and more of them are in these waters now and they work together as wolf packs.
“This area north of Shetland is a typical place we work. If this were the middle of winter and we were faced with southerly gales we would just have to tie up because of them. We are currently scratching around the edges of a 100 square mile area they have boxed off with a carpet of long lines on the seabed.”
Some of this issue was exacerbated last year during a tie-up scheme when markets were flat because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the Scottish boats were not on their traditional fishing grounds, these boats were opportunistic. Once they had their sets on the grounds, they would not have to move their gear, unlike trawlers.
“We had a tie-up scheme in place where half the fleet tied up to allow the other half to get fish into market. It worked very well for us, but the downfall was that because only half our fleet was at sea, then more of these flag ships plundered our waters,” explains Ross.
Since Brexit, Scottish boats can no longer avail of quota swaps with former neighbouring member states. This means that they have little room to manoeuvre with choke species. This means they have to be extremely careful where they fish and rely on traditional grounds they know will not see them taking onboard unwanted bycatch.
“It’s just all so wrong this,” says Ross. “There’s massive French stern trawlers working west of Shetland here filling up in no time. We have to scratch around and avoid fish as we have no quota. Really the whole west side off Shetland is accommodated by foreign fleet and now the north of Shetland totally covered in static gear.
“They will be moving east once they have cleared up here looking for hake.
“We finish our trip on Thursday and are having to tie up for 6 weeks with the lack of quota. It’s very frustrating sitting at home watching these guys fish. They come into Lerwick or elsewhere and land their fish straight into a lorry and off to the Continent.”
In April this year, Shetland Fishermen’s Association Chair, James Anderson called for a ban on gillnets and called for the Scottish government to examine legislation which could limit its use in Scottish waters.
by Oliver McBride