We’ll break law on cod limits, say trawlermen
By Paul Kelbie, Scotland Correspondent
31st January 2004
Declining fish stocks, fierce storms, working for days without sleep, and the ever-present risk of being swept overboard, or the ship going down. One might have thought that the life of a Scottish fisherman was hard enough.
But from tomorrow, it will get tougher still. New EU rules designed to protect the dwindling number of cod in the seas off Britain will leave the trawlermen facing an even greater struggle to survive.
The trawlers will have to travel further out to sea. And as part of continuing efforts by Europe to maintain adequate levels of fish, they will be allowed to fish for just 15 days a month. The fishermen say that the rules are so harsh they will have little choice but to break them.
The new EU rules will impose an exclusion zone in the traditional fishing zones east of Arbroath and north of Shetland. Crews will have to use up much of the limited time at sea steaming to and from new fishing further out into the Atlantic.
"We don't agree with the law," said Mike Park, chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association. "We don't acknowledge it and feel it would be hypocritical to obey it.” Other countries are allowed 22 days a month at sea because their fleets use smaller nets for shellfish, and white fish is a by-catch for them. But British vessels fishing for cod and haddock are legally prevented from using smaller nets.
With a fishing boat costing up to £3m to buy and equip, and between £800 to £2,000 a day to run, excluding wages, many skippers say they have no choice but to breach the 15-day rule and risk tens of thousand of pounds in fines, or jail. "We might as well go bankrupt in prison as at sea," said Sandy West, of Banffshire Fish selling Company, who runs three boats. "If we breach this 15-day rule it's not because we are being awkward or stubborn, it's because we have no choice."
The small town of Macduff, at the mouth of the river Deveron, 47 miles north of Aberdeen, has been a fishing harbour since 1783.
Edward Acton, secretary of the Macduff White Fish Producers' Association, said that any further decline in the industry was bound to have a detrimental effect on the town, where a cottage can be bought for as little as £34,000.
Thirty years ago Macduff was a hive of activity and prosperity with its own fish market, thriving boat-building industry and a harbour full of boats. "Many young people are leaving Macduff now and we're being left with an ageing population," Mr Acton said. "Where once we had four butcher's shops there are now none and two of three baker's shops have closed."
Scores of local businesses, such as joiners, electricians and engineers, built on the back of the fishing industry to service the boats, have also been forced to close or move.
Alan Watt, 41, a skipper from Macduff, claims that his only choice will be to steer a direct collision course with Europe in a fight to the end. He said: "I can't afford to have my boat tied up. I have invested everything I have in this business and I am being stopped from working. I go to sea seven or 10 days at a time but under these new rules I might only get one decent trip a month, if I'm lucky."
With each box of 150 haddock selling for £16, Mr West said: "Each one of those will make a fish supper and you try getting one for less than £3.50 from a chip shop. Somebody's making money but it's not fishermen."