Member state governments need to wake up and assert their authority over the European Commission to prevent the ban on fishermen discarding catches at sea bankrupting large swathes of the industry.
That is the stark message ahead of the December Fisheries Council from two of Scotland’s biggest fishing bodies, the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association (SWFPA) and Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA).
With only a marginal quota increase for haddock and potential reductions for species such as cod and whiting in prospect at the ongoing EU/Norway discussions leading up to the annual EU summit on December 15th, European Commission officials are apparently dismissive of serious impediments to the introduction of the discard ban for the main white fish stocks in January 2016.
The SWFPA and the SFA believe that fishermen will be put out of business unless there is an urgent rethink about how fishing opportunities are set for 2015 and beyond.
Mike Park, chief executive of the SWFPA, said: “No fisherman that I know is happy throwing perfectly good fish back into the sea, which is why both the SWFPA and SFA support the intent of the landings obligation.
“However, without significant increases in quota and the introduction of flexibilities to the quota system, it simply will not work.
“Fishing boats will go out of business because the new rules mean that all fishing must stop when vessels run out of the first quota.
“We call on the governments of all member states to recognise the serious dangers of allowing a ban to go ahead without significant additional changes to the management regime and the way they set catch limits.”
Simon Collins, executive officer of the SFA, said he was surprised that officials within the European Commission seemed to think very little needed to be done prior to implementing the discard ban.
“There is a lack of urgency among bureaucrats in Brussels. It is shocking how detached they are from the realities of their policies and the impacts they are likely to have on the communities they are paid to serve.”
The SWFPA and SFA have also launched a scathing attack on the US-based Pew Charitable Trusts after discovering that the organisation is soliciting signatures from Scottish businesses and groups to a letter condemning ministers for allegedly allowing increases in overfishing.
“The Pew Charitable Trusts and other so-called green organisations lobbied successfully to have the discard ban or landings obligation introduced,” said Mr Park.
“But as they studied their graphs in their warm city offices they gave no thought to how it might be implemented in practical terms.
“And now that governments and civil servants are coming to realise that a discard ban under the quota system is likely to destroy perfectly sustainable fisheries around the Scottish coastline, what do they do?
“Instead of acting responsibly in helping to find a successful way forward, they turn on fisheries ministers and seek signatures from Scottish businesses to a letter which is a complete caricature of the situation attacking fisheries ministers for failing to meet deadlines.
“Civil society needs to wake up to the fact that Pew and others like them are spending a multi-million pound war chest dictating how we in Scotland and other parts of Europe manage fishing dependent communities.
“How dare they given that Scotland’s fishers provide leadership on sustainable practices for the rest of Europe.”
Mr Collins added: “It is typical of urban greens who are so far removed from the families that depend on the sea, whether it be here in Shetland or around other parts of the Scottish coastline.
“They need to abandon their anti-jobs crusade and accept that a botched ban would have grave implications for communities that have successfully coexisted with the marine environment for centuries.”
A draft of the Pew Charitable Trusts letter can be seen here.