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The price of "Europe"

Posted by Richard Friday, January 14, 2005

UK trawlers have been given an "entitlement" to extra days at sea over the basic EU allowance in recognition of the cuts made in recent years. However, the price paid for those days has been huge. In today’s Fishing News, David Linkie spells out how big a sacrifice has been made to gain this concession from our government in Brussels. We reproduce his article here:

Tangible evidence of the benefits of successive decommissioning schemes was again seen by the UK when the Fisheries Council acknowledged that the large-scale reduction of the fleet is having a far-reaching impact on restricting fishing effort and conserving stocks.

Despite 268 boats being broken up at a cost of £78 million in 2002 and 2003, resulting in the loss of almost 1500 jobs at sea, and plenty more ashore, UK skippers have seen little proof that the medium to long-term benefits of such devastating cuts were being recognised by EU officials.

The fact that the EU’s proposed cuts in fishing days for 2005 were reduced from two to one (except on the west coast of Scotland) because of the much reduced number of white fish boats left on the grounds is a welcome sign that stability is gradually being returned to the much leaner fleet.

Anyone seeking further evidence of the reduction of the UK fleet just needed to walk around the quays of Peterhead harbour in the days preceding Christmas. Even allowing for visiting Irish midwater trawlers and a number of Scottish pelagic vessels, there were just 50 vessels berthed at the Blue Toon with almost as many empty berths empty as taken.

Apart from some 30 vessels berthed at Fraserburgh, Aberdeen, Wick and Eyemouth and a few boats at sea on oil jobs, in reality the boats berthed at Peterhead represented a large part of what remains of the traditional Scottish white fish fleet.

This is in stark contrast to the situation just four years ago when the port was crowded over the Christmas break with more than 200 vessels shoehorned in when lying four and five boats off the quay despite the repeated please of harbour officials for skippers to tie up at the likes of Buckie and Macduff.

Is it any wonder that skippers now regularly comment that they have completed 8/9 day trips to the North Sea grounds without ever seeing another fishing boat and that this must have been beneficial for stock levels?

The harsh facts of decommissioning show that from January 2000 to January 2004 the number of vessels in the UK fleet that rely on the traditional white fish stocks of cod, haddock and whiting has dropped 65 percent from 351 boats to 123.

Closer study of the fleet composition during the four years reveals a 60 percent cut in the number of seine netters, dropping 58 to 27; a 62 percent reduction in the number of pair-seiners, down from 66 to 26; 72 percent fewer white fish trawlers, cut from 127 to 33; the number of twin-rig white fish trawlers has fallen from 48 to 21, a reduction of 54 percent, while the number of pair trawlers is down to 14 from 40, a 65 percent decrease.

The gross tonnage and engine power of vessels targeting traditional white fish stocks now stand at 21,345 tonnes compared to 47,827 tonnes and 127,674kW respectively – reductions of 55 percent and 65 percent respectively.

In this four year period the Scottish white fish fleet has declined by 62 percent to 100 vessels, compared to 264 at the start of 2000.

The overall UK fleet has fallen from 1894 vessels, 243,508 tonnes and 699,337kW to stand at 1446 vessels, 198,354 tonnes and 554,189kW as of January 2004.

Given that the other main catching sector, whicn includes 350 prawn trawlers, 200 potters, 140 beamers, 100 scallopers, 46 mussel dredgers and 43 pelagic vessels have remained comparatively stable, this again shows that the traditional white fish industry has borne the brunt of recent capacity reductions.

That, dear reader, is the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy for you - the price of "Europe".