Scotland’s fisheries minister has warned that any more cuts to the days trawlers can spend at sea would spell disaster for the industry.
Richard Lochhead will call instead for an “effort freeze” when he attends crucial talks in Luxembourg today and tomorrow.
He wants to head off any further threats to the Scottish catching sector in the run-up to the EU Fisheries Council summit in Brussels in December.
If the science supports it, the minister said, he will argue for an increase in the volume of cod fishermen are allowed to land to prevent discards – the dumping back into the sea of perfectly good fish, which generally die – because quota restrictions make it illegal to take them ashore.
Mr Lochhead said: “Preventing a cut to days-at-sea allowance, the proposed cut in North Sea cod total allowable catch (TAC) and the ongoing mackerel dispute are of critical importance to the future viability of Scotland’s fishing industry.
“Scottish fishermen catch 75% of the UK mackerel quota and our fishermen deserve to be represented at the discussions this week by someone with experience of these complex issues and who is well known at council. I have therefore written to Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson requesting to speak on behalf of the UK on these matters and ensure our priorities are understood and well conveyed to council members.”
Speaking on the eve of the Luxembourg talks, he said he would do everything in his power to secure a favourable outcome for Scottish fishermen.
One of the most simple and indisputable issues in fishing is that fishermen need to be able to go to sea to catch the quota that has been allocated to them,” he said.
“A reduction to days-at-sea allocation also prevents fishermen from fishing selectively due to the reduced time at sea available, which is therefore detrimental to fish stocks.
“That is clearly not what EU ministers want to achieve so I will be arguing hard for an effort freeze.”
Mr Lochhead said the proposed cut in the TAC of cod was “deeply concerning” and underlined why the cod-recovery plan was widely discredited.
“We hope and anticipate the next round of scientific advice due out shortly will continue to show significant recovery in cod stocks, and, if that is the case, all a cut in TAC will achieve is an increase in discards – which is the very thing we are aiming to eradicate through recent Common Fisheries Policy reforms,” he said.