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Scottish fishing fleet faces more rough seas ahead
Victoria Mitchell

The Scotsman

22nd March 2004

Scotland’s fishing fleet could be facing yet more cuts as a result of a Downing Street review of the UK fishing industry.

Tony Blair’s strategy unit will release proposals on Thursday that it believes will secure the long-term future of the industry. The recommendations could mean cuts in capacity of up to 15 per cent.

A substantial tie-up of boats to reduce pressure on struggling cod stocks could also be on Number 10’s agenda, according to BBC Scotland.

The aim of the Prime Minister’s strategy team is to secure a stable future for the industry, but to achieve that it is expected to recommend short-term cuts.

While the report will provide advice rather than policy, it could still prove politically difficult for the government.

Ted Brocklebank, the Scottish Tory fishing spokesman, said more cuts could spell disaster for the industry.

"Here we are only a few months into this year’s fishing deal and already Downing Street are suggesting more Draconian cuts. Last week they dealt a hammer blow to our whisky industry, this week it’s our fishermen. You have to wonder just what Jack McConnell and Alastair Darling are up to."

Mr Brocklebank said that he, Peter Duncan, the shadow secretary for Scotland, and MEP Struan Stevenson, chairman of the European parliament’s fisheries committee, would meet fishermen today.

"We will meet leaders of the fishing industry to plan the way ahead for the fishing industry. Meanwhile, this government seems to be planning its funeral."

Alex Salmond, Scottish National Party leader in Westminster, whose Banff and Buchan constituency takes in the fishing ports of Peterhead and Fraserburgh, told BBC Scotland’s Politics Show that further restrictions would harm the industry’s infrastructure.

He said: "We have already had decommissioning of over half of our white fish fleet in the last three years.

"If there are any other cuts in the fleet then what happens is not an optimistic future. What you get is a collapse of the infrastructure on which the fleet depends.

"There is no need for this, it is a spectacular piece of incompetence."

Mr Salmond said he would rigorously oppose any proposal for more cuts.

He added: "I wouldn’t overestimate the competence of the government’s strategy unit. I gave evidence to this strategy unit, I also gave evidence to the Royal Society report which was released a couple of weeks ago.

"When I spoke to the Royal Society I was dealing with people of substance - scientists, academics, former civil servants, people of vast knowledge and experience - and they produced a weighty report.

"When I was talking to the Prime Minister’s strategy unit, it was like teaching kindergarten. I think there are far more teenage scribblers in the unit than people suppose."

The European fishing deal limits Scottish boats to 15 days a month in the North Sea. It was agreed, however, that the fleet could catch 30 per cent more prawns and 53 per cent more haddock.