Scotland's shellfish stocks ‘under threat’ as creel fishermen dub management a 'disaster'
THE management of Scotland’s fishing industry has been an “economic and environmental disaster of epic proportions”, according to a representative of the Scottish Creel Fisherman’s Federation.
Campaign groups have meanwhile accused the Scottish Government of failing to deliver sustainable fishing policies because they are “running scared” of lobbyists and companies making profit from the current “broken” system.
Alastair Philp, the federation’s west coast representative, claims Marine Scotland’s failure to “get a grip” on threats to shellfish stocks threatens to have a devastating effect on the industry.
Philp, skipper of the Skye-based creeler Nemesis, wrote to ministers and Scottish Government officials earlier this month claiming the concerns of inshore shellfish fishermen – who are calling for stricter quotas to be introduced to protect stocks – had been “wilfully ignored”.
The Scottish Government is consulting on the future of fisheries management until next month, and claims it wants to “use the expertise and experience of all our stakeholders to help us develop a world-class fisheries management system to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Scottish industry”.
However Philp insists calls from the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation for caps on both the numbers of vessels and their catch – which it says are necessary if inshore fishing is to remain sustainable – have been consistently dismissed.
In a letter to officials – seen by the Sunday National – he claimed the refusal to face up to past failures in managing fish stocks calls into question whether Marine Scotland is “fit for purpose”, suggesting that an external consultant is needed to provide objectivity.
He claims creelers were not allowed to present their perspective at a recent fisheries event and their urgent concerns about fish stock were not addressed.
“They were oblivious to what we were saying,” he told the Sunday National. “It’s not even mentioned in the consultation document as a historic issue. No-one seems to even vaguely addressing this.”
“The problem is snowballing and the only way it looks like it will stop is when the stocks collapse. We have been banging on the door, begging to be heard. Things are now getting to a critical stage and we are very frustrated and disenchanted."
He claimed the previous policy had been “an economic and environmental disaster of epic proportions” with “a history of colossal mismanagement". “The industry is crying out for regulation here,” he added. “We are seeing the end if we don’t get a grip soon. We’ve seen this happen historically with herring, and with white fish and now we can see it coming with shellfish too.”
Populations of the fish across Scotland collapsed in the 1970s and 1980s and although there has been a gradual increase in North Sea herring – once at the heart of a thriving fishing industry – west coast stocks are still recovering from decades of over-exploitation.
It's claimed that since the three-mile limit – which banned trawlers fishing close to the shore – was done away with by Margaret Thatcher undersized stocks have been decimated, and sea beds and coral reefs wrecked.
The claims are hotly disputed by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, who claim creelers’ proposals to re-instate the limit in some areas around the Scottish coast are wholly unnecessary and are driven by a desire to promote their own interests over those of the trawlers. It insists fishing by trawlers is done in a sustainable and responsible way.
However Phil Taylor, head of policy for Open Seas, said: “Scotland’s inshore fisheries have historically sustained healthy communities and a vibrant fishing industry. Today this is unfortunately no longer the case.
“Historic damage has led us to a situation where few fish caught in our coastal seas, and the shellfish fisheries which have replaced them are poorly and loosely regulated – try finding a locally caught cod in Oban – Scotland’s seafood capital.
“At its most basic, fish and shellfish management needs two things – a limit on the amount that can be caught and a limit on the amount the sea can be impacted during the catching. The Scottish Government are currently consulting on their plans for the future of inshore fisheries management, yet despite all their own scientific advice indicating such regulation and limits are needed, they are proposing none.
“Unfortunately, Scottish ministers are running scared from lobbyists and companies making profit from the current broken system, and failing the vision to deliver a more sustainable, fair, profitable and environmental future.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said it believed that fisheries management could only be done successfully in collaboration with fishing communities. He claimed public engagement events being held in coastal communities around the country aimed to capture the wide range of views and experience in the industry.
He added: “While there are differing views among fishing representative bodies on how best to tackle issues facing the sector, any and all fisheries management decisions are based on finding an appropriate balance between supporting the industry, ensuring a sustainable future for fish stocks, and protecting our environment.”
On Friday NGOs demanded that EU fisheries ministers face up to the consequences of their poor record on protecting the fish populations that underpin the health of European Seas. In a freshly published catch advice from The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), scientists advise that the iconic North Sea cod population is at such depleted levels, that fishing limits should be capped at 10,457 tonnes in 2020 – a 70% cut compared to last year.
Campaign groups such as Seas at Risk and Our Fish claimed that North Sea cod stocks are facing collapse yet again due to over-fishing.