An incident north-west off the Butt of Lewis has led to calls for the UK Government to add conditions when licensing to EU fishing vessels

Should there be conditions added when licensing EU fishing vessels to avoid similar incidents where the Loch Inchard II was forced of her fishing grounds?

A Scottish skipper and his crew found themselves being harassed off their traditional fishing grounds by French and UK flagged fishing vessels as more foreign vessels make their way northwards into Scottish waters.

On Monday, 31 May, the 18-metre Loch Inchard II UL 44, was operating North of The Butt of Lewis when she was driven off her fishing grounds by several fishing vessels using static fishing gear.

The skipper of the Loch Inchard II had spoken to one of the skippers the previous day and both had agreed the foreign vessel would set his fishing gear north of where the Loch Inchard II was operating.

On Monday morning, the skipper found that another five vessels had joined the other vessel and were moving south and setting their static fishing gear on the grounds where his own vessel was operating.

On arrival on the grounds the Scottish fishing vessel found itself under attack from the 32 -metre French registered Sylvanna who circled the Loch Inchard II  before dangerously crossing her bow in an action that caused skipper Ian Mackay to knock his before out of gear to avoid a collision.

The bullying and intimidation caused Ian and his crew to abandon the grounds and seek fishing opportunities elsewhere.

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Mike Park, OBE who is the CEO of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association noted that there has been an increase of French and Spanish registered fishing boats coming in Scottish waters recently. These boats fish gill-nets or longlines and it is causing great difficulties for Scottish vessels that usually operate there with trawl or seine-nets.

“Because there’s no limits on the number of licences on EU vessels that can operate in UK waters, we are finding it as an increasing competition for space,” says Mike.

“When you get a number of these vessels operating in an area, they just blanket it out. These vessels are coming on traditional mobile gear areas and you can understand the frustration.

“At the end of the day we are going to have to work with both these vessels and our own government to try and make amendments to the regulations that permit both to operate a safe space.”

Mike says he believes the reason for this increase is due to a nematode (a flesh-eating parasitic worm) that is being found in fish on their traditional fishing grounds further south where these foreign vessels operate. The nematode, Anisakis, is causing boats to get a poorer price for their fish, so they are moving north away from the parasite.

There has been a call for Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government to do more to protect Scottish fishing vessels from harassment and bullying in their own waters and Mike believes that stipulations in licensing could help the issue.

“It’s down to the numbers of vessels in a limited space.”

“During the TCA negotiations we had talked with negotiators about limiting licence numbers, but we were told that we couldn’t really do that, so it was held the off the agenda. But I think what we need to consider it now. 

“Internally, we’ve been trying to talk about measures that could allow static and mobile to work in cooperation with one another. We’re going to talk to the government about trying to get it into the fishing licence,” says Mike.

The SWFPA have been working on compromises in other areas of the Scottish waters where both static gear and mobile gear are working.

“We’ve come to an agreement with creelers off West Orkney where we rotate the area that trawlers go into. We set up a formal agreement with them. That has shown it can work, so, we need to find some form of wording in the licence that allows both sectors to operate without conflict.”

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Incident off Lewis leads to call for conditions in licensing EU fishing vessels

by editor time to read: 7 min