Fisheries Secretary Fergus Ewing yesterday warned that fishermen face an “extremely challenging picture” over whitefish stocks.
Looking ahead to annual negotiations that will determine catch and quota limits for the coming year, Mr Ewing warned jobs and livelihoods are at stake in the Brussels talks.
He said scientific advice published by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) were testing for fishing communities.
And he warned: “We have got a lot to lose.”
Speaking in a Holyrood fisheries debate, Mr Ewing said reductions were advised for whiting, saithe and hake, while zero catch advice remains in place for cod and whiting on the west coast.
Advice on North Sea cod recommends a 61% reduction in catches next year, a situation Mr Ewing warned would result in an “immediate and severe choke risk”.
A choke species is a type of fish with a low quota that can cause a vessel to stop fishing even if they still have quota for other species.
Last night MSPs passed a Scottish Government motion, amended by Labour, noting that the outcome of the negotiations would be “pivotal” to reducing the impact of choke species which could “potentially tie the fleet up”.
Mr Ewing reminded MSPs the final quotas would be determined during the talks and said there were some positive signs for the industry, which produced £574 million of landings last year.
The agreement reached on mackerel, Scotland’s single most valuable stock, amounted to a 41% increase on last year’s limits, delivering a potential benefit of £175 million.
North East Tory MSP Peter Chapman called on the Scottish Government to reduce business rates, which have been blamed for crippling fish processors.
Mr Chapman said the north-east was losing jobs to Humberside, where the processing sector is growing.
He added that it was “worrying” that the number of processing sites had decreased by almost 25% from 2010 until 2018.
Mr Ewing revealed he had written to the UK Government suggesting he leads the UK delegation in the end of year negotiations.
Mr Ewing took the step on the grounds that a post-election UK Government might not be formed at that point.
He also clashed with the Tories over their view that Brexit would enable fishermen to to leave the “hated” Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
The Conservatives argued that it would result in regaining control over UK waters, but Mr Ewing accused them of promising the “earth, moon and stars”.
Mr Ewing also warned that a no-deal Brexit would result in “bankruptcies” as a result of the need for certificates to export fish, which could cost up to £15 million.