Scottish fishing chiefs insisted yesterday the sustainable harvesting of stocks would remain a key priority for the industry after the UK leaves the EU.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said the fleet would continue to fish responsibly outside of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
He was speaking after it emerged over the weekend that Westminster has triggered the UK’s exit from the London Convention, which allows vessels from six European countries to fish in UK inshore waters, as a precursor to quitting the CFP.
Some media reports have claimed the UK’s withdrawal from European fishing agreements presents a “real risk“ to fish stocks.
Mr Armstrong said: “The idea that our exit initially from the London Convention and then the CFP will instantly herald a return to the old days of over-fishing is preposterous and, frankly, insulting.
“Those who make such remarks have clearly not been looking closely at what has been going on in the industry.
“Observers and those who claim to be stakeholders … need to understand that Brexit will lead to a redistribution of quotas, and not an increase.
“The industry has brought itself back from the edge of the precipice through its commitment to sustainable fishing, and most major stocks are now caught at or near maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels.
“Why on earth would we want to dangle our feet over the edge again?”
MSY is the largest catch that can be taken from a stock over an indefinite period without harming it.
Mr Armstrong also said he would be speaking to Environment Secretary Michael Gove and UK Government officials later this week about the future of the industry.
Meanwhile, a former naval chief has warned peers in the House of Lords the UK will become a “laughing stock“ if it does not have sufficient patrol ships to enforce fishing rules after Brexit.
Admiral Lord West of Spithead called for a centralised command system to crack down on illegal fishing.
He added: “The bottom line is we have very, very few vessels involved in this and they are not properly centrally coordinated.”
The Labour peer said a number of countries had already indicated they would continue to fish in UK waters, adding: “We will be made a laughing stock if we apply rules but cannot enforce them.”
Scottish fisheries are policed by Marine Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government.
South of the border, enforcement is the responsibility of the Marine Management Organisation and in-shore fisheries and conservation authorities.
Elsewhere in the fishing world, Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil said yesterday he had invited Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis to meet local fishers to hear about their concerns about crew shortages.
The move follows Mr MacNeil’s previous criticism of the Home Office for failing to consider reintroducing a scheme that would allow the industry to recruit non-European Economic Area workers.
The MP said: “Inaction from the UK Government’s Home Office is hurting the west coast Scottish fishing industry.
“I know of men desperate to return to the west coast to boats they once worked on.
“Skippers need crew and they have people from non-European Economic Areas ready and willing to work – but the UK Government continues to turn a blind eye.”