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Fishermen to defy EU Minister's snub
By Ian Smith

Daily Record

14th January 2004

They press ahead with quota protest

Fishermen are to press ahead with a law-breaking protest after failing to win a new deal yesterday.

Trawler men's leaders confronted Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw at Westminster.

But later they said he was ''totally unsympathetic'' and he insisted he had secured a good deal in European negotiations on conserving dwindling cod stocks.

The Scots skippers are planning legal action against the deal.

And they also plan to breach the strict rules which mean they can only fish for 15 days a month in restricted areas of the North Sea.

Mike Park, chairman of the Scottish Whitefish Producers' Association, said the industry had no choice but to defy the new EU rules. Park said, ‘‘the minister seems to believe the industry can survive on 15 days fishing a month.

''I'm sure he knows in his heart it isn't possible for us with this fatally flawed deal.

''We told him the fleet will be bankrupt in a matter of months and that we have no choice but to break the deal he has struck.''

In negotiations last month, the Government actually won a 53 per cent increase in the quota of haddock which the fleet can catch.

But they can only fish for 15 days a month and are only allowed to net a tiny proportion of their total catch in a massive ''exclusion zone'' where foreign boats can take their entire quota.

That makes it impossible for the Scots boats to catch as much as they did last year, rendering the quota increase irrelevant.

All 115 Scots white fish boats have now agreed to break the deal, even though it could mean suicide for the industry. EU officials will view all fish caught as having come from the conservation area, filling the haddock quota for the year.

The boats will then have to tie up and skippers will face bankruptcy.

Scottish Fisheries Minister Ross Finnie has acknowledged there are ''unintended consequences'' to the deal which must now be addressed.

And yesterday, SNP Westminster leader Alex Salmond attacked Bradshaw over the deal in the Commons.

He said, ‘‘these are not just unintended consequences of this deal but consequences which threaten the very survival of the fishing industry itself.

''You are living in some parallel universe, different from the rest of us, where everybody says what a marvellous job you did despite obviously their grave misgivings, indeed their fears.''

He added: We are in a position at the present moment when the prime Scottish stock haddock is at a 30-year high, where other stocks are in robust condition.

''We have one stock cod which is under pressure but still recovering from a low level.

''People are prepared to accept many things but they are not going to accept a situation where we have a sea that is teeming with fish and empty of Scottish fishermen.''

But Bradshaw said it could have been much worse.

He said: ''Britain's strategic objectives were to agree a long-term recovery plan, which we did, in return for maximising opportunities to catch those stocks which were more plentiful, like haddock and prawn.

''These were the priorities shared by the industry as they made plain to us on many occasions.''