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Plea for PM to act over Russian boats fishing west of Shetland

Pelagic trawler Altaire in Lerwick harbour.
Pelagic trawler Altaire in Lerwick harbour.

A Shetland fisherman has personally urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to explain how Russian freezer trawlers can gain back-door access to UK waters.

According to Colin Leask, mate of pelagic vessel Altaire (LK429), 11 Russian factory ships have recently fished for blue whiting about 100 nautical miles west of Shetland.

Fishing activity across large swathes of the north-east Atlantic is governed by coastal state agreements affecting quota allocations for the EU, UK, Norway, Iceland, Faroe, Greenland and Russia.

A bilateral deal between Faroe and Russia allows the latter access to some shared areas.

Altaire, berthed at Collafirth in Shetland.

In a letter to the PM, Mr Leask said: “Russian vessels are being allowed to come and go as they please, without any form of resistance from our Navy or fisheries protection vessels.

“This is beyond belief, especially while the war in the Ukraine is still as horrific now as it was two months ago.”

Internet search

He added: “After a lot of searching on the internet trying to understand why and how these Russian freezer trawlers are fishing beside us in UK waters, I managed to find a bilateral agreement called the Forty Fifth Joint Faroese – Russian Fisheries Commission Agreement, which was signed on November 26 2021.

“Within this agreement there was a mutual quota allocation set in place for the 2022 fishery, with Faroe authorities permitting Russia access into their waters, including a special shared zone between Faroe and the UK, which is south of the Faroese borderline but within the UK sector.

“How can this be an equally shared zone when 100% of the zone is inside UK waters?”

‘Ridiculously inflated’ quota

Mr Leask said Russian vessels were not only freely towing their nets inside UK waters, despite sanctions against Russia, but also fishing on a “ridiculously inflated” quota of 75,000 tonnes.

He added: “With Russia still carrying out horrific atrocities against the Ukrainian people on a daily basis, and with the EU and UK supposedly having strict sanctions set in place against Russia, how are 11 Russian factory ships allowed to openly fish in UK waters?”

The 75,000t of blue whiting allocated to Russia is 28.5% more than the UK’s pelagic fleet is allowed to catch in its own waters, Mr Leask said.

Russian vessels are being allowed to come and go as they please, without any form of resistance.”

Colin Leask, of the Lerwick-registered Altaire.

He continued: “With the total UK blue whiting quota for 2022 only 58,939 tonnes, how is a third-party country allowed to be allocated more quota within our waters than our own UK vessels?

“This irresponsible allocation of quota by Faroe in the long term will be devastating for the UK pelagic sector.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being asked about Russian fishing vessels in UK waters.

A UK Government spokesman said: “The Faroe Islands must take a tougher stance on this.

“Allowing Russian vessels access to an area worth around £16 million in the midst of the horrors we are seeing in Ukraine is simply wrong.

“We, alongside our allies and partners, have taken urgent action to maximise damage to Putin’s war machine and degrade the Russian economy for years to come.

“We will categorically not license any Russian flagged vessels to fish anywhere in UK waters, and we will continue to urge the Faroes to follow our lead and ban these vessels.”

Faroe looking at a possible ban

The Faroese government is mulling a ban on Russian fishing boats in shared waters

Banff and Buchan Conservative MP David Duguid, fisheries envoy for the PM, has held talks with the country’s prime minister seeking action.

Mr Duguid said: “The prime minister of the Faroe Islands rightly condemned Putin and committed to exploring the same sanctions as the UK by banning Russian vessels from our waters.

“He admitted it’s going to be difficult for the Faroes to continue with their current arrangement with Russia.

“While I’m content with him saying this, it was made clear to him that warm words were not enough and we needed to see action from the Faroes now not later.”

David Duguid MP, left, on the far side of the table, during his meeting with Faroese prime minister Barour a Steig Nielsen.

The MP added: “Allowing Russian vessels access to an area worth around £16 million in the midst of the horrors we are seeing in Ukraine is completely not acceptable.

It’s important we have productive dialogue with the Faroe Islands as a fellow coastal state and I will continue to monitor their position to ensure a ban on Russian vessels is enforced.”

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