Shetland fishing vessels are being hampered by large Spanish boats using the benefit of UK registration to shoot miles of net west of Shetland.
Tangle nets up to 35 miles long are obstructing local boats fishing their traditional grounds, and even inside the 12 mile limit. The Shetland Fishermen’s Association and Shetland MSP Tavish Scott are asking the Scottish Government to intervene to avoid damage to local vessels’ fishing gear.
A voluntary code of practice was negotiated in 2013 that would have shared the fishing grounds equitably between Shetland and mainland Scottish vessels on the one hand and the Spanish companies operating tangle-net boats on the other. But that deal fell through on the Spanish side at the very last moment.
The situation is now worse and local boats want protection from their government. Tavish Scott met the SFA and local skippers on Friday to discuss the worsening situation.
Tavish Scott said, “Spanish and other vessels are acting aggressively in waters very close to the Shetland coastline. They are laying down miles of gillnets – a type of tangle net – that can cover up to 35 miles each. These vast nets are obstructing local boats in their normal fishing activities.
“There is a sensible way forward involving an agreed code of practice. That would mean much larger vessels fishing further west leaving the inshore waters for whitefish boats from both Shetland and other parts of Scotland. This agreement would have been in place but for last-minute demands from the Spanish side that had nothing to do with Shetland. Now the situation is getting out of hand. Shetland skippers are telling me how dangerous these Spanish fishing practices are. And 35 miles of net from a single boat effectively prevents six of ours fishing their traditional grounds.
“So I want the Scottish Fisheries Minister to step in and use his influence to keep vessels apart and protect local businesses. The Scottish Government have great powers of regulation. These must now be used to avoid an unnecessary conflict.”
Shetland Fishermen’s Association Executive Officer Simon Collins said, “The present situation cannot continue. It is completely unacceptable for a handful of vessels owned and operated from outside Scotland to drive our fleet off grounds we have fished for generations. The Scottish Government played a very creditable part in brokering a voluntary agreement that could have avoided conflict, but unfortunately now needs to take a tougher line, either on its own or in partnership with the UK authorities.”
In 2013 Tavish Scott asked Parliamentary questions on Marine Scotland’s enforcement of fishing regulations and the gillnet fleet operating west of Shetland. At that time the Scottish Government had not prosecuted any gillnet vessel and Richard Lochhead said that the government were in active discussions in an attempt to avoid infringements.
Tavish Scott added, “Marine Scotland are right to have worked on a solution. A voluntary code of practice covering a technical agreement was a sensible objective. We know that in one year, 2012-13, marine Scotland officers boarded gillnetters outside the 12 mile limit 10 times. So the government do know there is a real problem. That is why the fishing industry now need them to take concrete action.”