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Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Open letter to Fisheries Minister - "What's good for the goose....."


This is an open letter to Scottish fishing minister Richard Lochhead and UK fishing minister George Eustice published by the Shetland News.


"Dear Mr Lochhead and Mr Eustice, 

I would like to draw your attention to the lack of control and enforcement being carried out by Marine Scotland's SFPA vessels, regarding Faroese pelagic vessels carrying out mackerel fisheries south of Sumburgh, east of Fair Isle and east of Orkney. Over the past week, while fishing for mackerel on our own doorstep, Shetland's coast, I and all the rest of the Scottish pelagic fishermen have been keeping a rightfully suspicious eye on our close neighbours from the Faroe Islands. 

Being a pelagic fisherman for 20 years now, it's hard enough, knowing the facts and figures involving the huge magnitude of deliberate overfishing of mackerel carried out by Faroe/Iceland, which went on, season after season, for the past five years. The Faroese pelagic fleet is now fishing around our shores, and it's very worrying to say the least, going by the experience we've endured and witnessed over the past five years, that there's not much trust being afforded to our Faroese neighbours. They have now begun their endeavour to catch every last tonne of Scottish mackerel. Faroe has been granted an unbelievably huge 46,850 tonne mackerel access quota to catch in our waters. If the rationale behind granting Faroe their large mackerel share is on the back of more fish in their zone, why do they need an access quota in our waters for a third of it? This is a travesty, which needs to be rectified. 

I have watched and watched over this past week, Faroese boats coming in and going out of our waters time and time again, without being inspected by any of the three SFPA vessels. While the Faroese are filling their RSW (refrigerated seawater) tanks full of mackerel from our waters, the SFPA vessels are carrying out their usual routine of either running away from the wind, or on calm days hassling our own Scottish demersal and pelagic fishing boats, basically for an easy life, less paperwork and less agro. It's plain and simple for anyone to see, this is totally and utterly unacceptable, it's become a sham. You can watch the SFPA game on Marine Traffic's AIS any day of the week. If the forecast is above Force 5 the protection fleet immediately run for cover, then the Faroese shoot, take a haul or two and run for Faroe, unhindered in any way. So the 46,850 tonne access allocation can very easily become a whole lot more! Why Messrs Lochhead and Eustice is no one stopping them? 


As of 12:55 11/11/2014 the Trodur i Gotu now steaming back out to the fishing grounds west of Shetland - AIS courtesy of VesselTracker

As I write this I'm frustratingly watching, on Marine Traffic, the Jura lying in Kirkwall, while the Faroese super pelagic trawler (81.5m x 16.6m) Trodur i Gotu, which has a huge RSW capacity of 2700m3, fishing among other Faroese and Norwegian vessels south east of Fair Isle. While Jura was ashore the Trondur i Gotu steamed at 13 knots west of Fair Isle then set course homeward bound for Faroe, and that's just one of many huge RSW ships now under the Faroese flag! 

As per the EU/Faroe bi-lateral agreement, a Faroese vessel must first notify the Fishery Control Centre in Edinburgh four hours before leaving UK waters and must exit through one of four control areas, where the vessel should be inspected to see their catch coincides with what has been declared to Edinburgh. That's all fine and well, but where are the three SFPA vessels? To our utter dismay nowhere near the four designated areas! So who knows how much more than 46,850 tonnes will leave UK waters? 

When we fish Atlanto-Scandian herring inside Norwegian waters, we must declare and notify the Norwegian control authorities prior to leaving their waters with our catch, and at times we have to wait for many hours at a set designated area until our tanks are dipped before being allowed to go. Our own control agency isn't showing the slightest bit of interest in policing third country vessels fishing in our waters. The policy seems to be anything for an easy life, hassle the locals and leave the foreigners alone as it involves way too much paperwork if something unfolds. Pathetic! The SFPA has become a total laughing stock to the foreign fleet, the Dad's Army of the North Sea. 

While we were fishing herring off Orkney in August this year, we were chosen to be boarded for a routine inspection while towing. After three attempts in Force 4 winds and a slight sea state, they abandoned the boarding, saying it was not possible with the weather. We all knew then, god help our mackerel stocks if SPFA can't undertake a boarding in the height of the summer, how on earth will they ever even think about boarding a Faroese vessel in the winter with wind, swell and darkness? Impossible! The Faroese know this, so it's obvious they'll make their break for home at the same time SFPA vessels are running from the wind. 

The only secure and correct procedure is to have several designated ports around the north of Scotland, where all Faroese vessels must enter giving four hours notice. Then, either inside harbour limits or alongside the quayside if weather dictates, SFPA would definitely be in a position to carry out ullage of all RSW tanks before the vessel is allowed to leave to land their mackerel. Double standards are being practised by Marine Scotland between Scottish fishing vessels and foreign fishing vessels. Marine Scotland enforced a regulation on our pelagic fleet, regarding our RSW tanks, before we were allowed to begin fishing. We all had to pay to have a specialist laser measurement company carry out accurate calculations on our tank capacities, and new ullage charts made up and approved through Marine Scotland. Fair enough, but I have asked Marine Scotland twice now if the Faroese pelagic tank ships also needed the same high specification calculations carried out on their RSW tanks before being allowed to fish the 46,850t access quota around our shores? Nobody can answer this, because they know the answer is NO! 

So who's to know accurately what is actually on board any of these giant tank ships before they leave to land our mackerel into their factories? Usually, what's good for the goose is good for the gander! But not in this case. Ministers, please use your influence to rectify this situation before there is irreversible damage done to our healthy sustainable mackerel stocks. Colin Leask Antarctic II (LK145) Vaarhjem Symbister Whalsay Shetland