A Scottish PO chief says the Scottish government’s withholding of 12% of the 2017 Scottish mackerel quota from the pelagic sector is the wrong way to encourage more domestic landings, reports Tim Oliver.

Scottish fisheries minister Fergus Ewing told the Scottish pelagic sector in January that he intended to withhold 12% of the quota unless the pelagic fleet agreed to land more of its catch in Scotland (Fishing News, 16 February, ‘Scots minister withholds mackerel quota to deter foreign landings’).

He said a ‘significant proportion’ of Scottish quotas were landed overseas, which caused ‘significant loss of opportunity for onshore economic activity in Scotland, with potential for reduced employment and economic activity’.

A voluntary initiative in 2016 to encourage more pelagic landings in Scotland had achieved ‘very limited’ progress.

Fergus Ewing held meetings with the pelagic sector after the end of the early season mackerel fishery to try to find solutions, but without success.

John Anderson, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation, which has around half of the Scottish pelagic fleet in its membership, said the Scottish government’s approach to resolving the problem was wrong and ‘heavy handed’.

He told Fishing News: “Of course, we’d all like to see more Scottish pelagic quota landed to Scottish factories, but we are firmly of the view that the Scottish government is going about trying to achieve this in entirely the wrong manner.

“Instead of imposing quantitative landings targets and withholding quota, we believe it necessary to firstly understand the root cause of why so many Scottish pelagic fishermen choose to land their catch abroad, and then address those issues to create the right conditions that will sufficiently incentivise them to land more domestically, without the need for heavy-handed government intervention.

“Sadly, the government’s current approach appears to be making things worse, not better, and our fishermen are being asked to act in an irrational manner which, unsurprisingly, is something they are unwilling to do.”

Meanwhile the Scottish Conservatives have branded the decision as ‘unprecedented’ and a ‘disproportionate’ move that holds fishermen to ransom.

Conservative fishing spokesman, Finlay Carson said: “Without quota, fishermen cannot catch any fish, and if they cannot catch any fish, they cannot make a living. Withholding part of the mackerel quota, the most important fishery in Scotland, only seeks to play with the livelihoods of hard-working Scottish fishermen.

“This is an entirely disproportionate decision by the Scottish government. Fergus Ewing is apparently intent on achieving his landings targets at any cost.

“While I fully support the ambition to see more fish landed in Scotland’s ports, holding fishermen to ransom is not the way to achieve this. Instead, we need a government willing to work with the industry to look at why so many catches are being landed elsewhere, and what can be done to make it more appealing for fishermen to land in Scotland.

“I am deeply concerned by the way in which Fergus Ewing has chosen to treat Scotland’s fishermen. I would urge him to reconsider this reckless move and urgently release the final 12% of the 2017 mackerel quota.”

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