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English fishermen to join Scots rebels

Frank Urquart

The Scotsman

14th January 2004

ENGLISH fishermen’s leaders are considering plans to follow the lead of Scottish trawlermen in staging a rebellion against the European Union’s new Draconian days-at-sea regime.

The executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), the English equivalent of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, will meet on 28 January - four days before the new rules come into force - to discuss their response to the Scottish white-fish fleet’s initiative. Members of the powerful Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association have already vowed to defy the new 15 days a month fishing limit and fishing grounds permit system from 1 February.

An estimated 120 Scottish white-fish trawlers and 20 English vessels will be subject to both the new days-at-sea restrictions and permit rules while most other English demersal trawlers will be subject to the days-at-sea restrictions.

Barrie Deas, the chief executive of the NFFO, told The Scotsman yesterday that English fishermen were equally incensed about the new days-at-sea regime, which will apply only to British vessels operating in the North Sea.

He said: "We won’t be taking a formal stance until a meeting of our executive later this month. While we don’t have as many vessels, which fish the haddock areas subject to the permit restrictions, we do have a number of boats, which will be similarly affected.

"And we find the conditions associated with the increase in the haddock quota to be extremely onerous and very difficult to work with.

"These conditions were introduced without any prior discussion with the industry and they are unreasonably severe and discriminatory. They do not apply to boats from any other member states, which is completely unacceptable.

"The perversity of the system is that the smaller the mesh you use, the more days at sea you get," Mr Deas added. "We are very much opposed to days-at-sea restrictions as part of a centralised control system, and this federation has a very long history of taking the lead in challenging days-at-sea restrictions. Back in 1993, we mounted a major campaign and took the issue all the way to the European Court where we lost the legal case.

"In light of the bloody nose we got in the courts on that issue, we are now taking our time to decide our response."

Mr Deas added: "Under a 15-days-at-sea limit, the English fleet will be just as severely affected as the Scottish fleet. Boats will not be viable on 15 days."

And he revealed: "The federation has today written to Ben Bradshaw, the UK fisheries minister, asking for interim aid for the English fleet to keep the vessels viable while these recovery plans work through."

Mr Deas explained: "Last year the Scottish industry got 10 million in transitional aid from the Scottish Executive, while we got zilch. The Scottish industry, quite rightly, described the interim aid they received as a lifeline. The English industry didn’t get that lifeline and has suffered as a result.

"In fisheries, ministers have tried to act consistently north and south of the Border when it comes to management and licensing. But when it comes to interim aid there is a discriminatory policy which disadvantages vessels south of the Border, and that is unacceptable. We are now seeking parity of treatment."

Meanwhile, the controversial deal led to angry exchanges in the House of Commons during a debate on Britain’s fisheries. Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader, accused Mr Bradshaw of brokering an illogical agreement, which would drive fishermen out of the major grounds containing mature haddock.

He declared: "It is totally irrational and is a complete environmental and conservation disaster. It makes no sense whatsoever."

Mr Bradshaw, however, defended the deal and said that, without the permit system, there would have been no increase in the haddock quota.