The Scottish whitefish fleet’s survival depends on an a UK-EU fisheries deal that would allow POs to easily swap quota says SWFPA chief
SWFPA Chief Mike Park OBE wants a fisheries agreement that would allow UK and EU fish producer organisations to swap quota without the added bureaucracy of post-Brexit red tape.
Scottish boats are facing a lean 2021 if they cannot get access to quota swaps from the EU, with some vessels fearing they may have to tie-up early in the year when quotas run out on choke species. Since the start of the post-Brexit era, Scottish boats have found themselves locked out of the fishing grounds in the Faroes, and most recently, failed fisheries negotiations with Norway means that Scottish whitefish vessels will have to concentrate their efforts in their own waters that they are sharing with the EU fleet.
The additional 25% taken from the EU fleet in the Trade and Cooperation agreement has done little for the fishing fleet as it only translates to small percentage increases on choke species such as cod.
UK and EU negotiations are currently ongoing, but Mr Park feels that it is imperative for the survival of the Scottish whitefish fleet that the British negotiators come up with a deal that resolves this issue.
“We are still waiting to see the outcome of the UK/EU negotiations,” says Mr Park. “We want to see if an agreement can be secured.
“Obviously, the fact still remains that all of the demersal whitefish fleet are suffering from a shortage of quota which will put pressure on the fleet.”
Asked if he believed a deal can be reached that would allow the fleet to continue their fisheries activity Mr Park said, “For that to happen there has to be an agreement or we will have to wait for the Specialised Fisheries Committee to be set-up and then we have to learn what structure and mechanism they’re going to use to swap fish. Once that is done it then depends on the decision on what approach will be used.
“But if we have to wait from the outcome of the Specialised Fisheries Committee, then that would mean that any additional fish wouldn’t come in until probably late into the second half of the year, so for many vessels would be too late.”
“The lifeblood of the industry is the access to fishing opportunities and it is important that this is sorted in the current negotiations.”
On the issue of quota swaps Mr Park believes the system that was in place post-Brexit is still the best system of making agreement and is afraid that if it comes down to running every swap through government and EU Commission channels, the set-up could become slow and fishing vessels would suffer under these types of delays.
“We need to find the system that can get the fish to those that need it. Governments are not necessarily the best place to do that, neither so is the European Commission. So, we need to find something that delivers the fish in the area that is probably desperate for it.
“The system that worked, we know was the old system between POs with the UK ratifying the deal. We may no longer be a Member State but there’s no reason why that same process can translate into the current era.”
By Oliver McBride