Documentary highlighting poor working conditions adds weight to long-running Shetland campaign

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael is to lobby the UK government to put pressure on Germany after yet more revelations about the fleet of foreign gill-netters operating in Shetland waters. Registered in France and Germany as well as Spain, the vessels are mainly Spanish-owned, with international crews.

A 30-minute documentary by German public TV, made after contact from Niall Duffy, editor of The Skipper, focused on two of the netters regularly seen working the deepwater west of Shetland, the Pesorsa Dos and Ortegal Tres, both registered in Germany. The vessels were detained at the start of 2023 in Castletownbere for a series of fisheries offences.

Subsequent investigations showed that the crew, mainly from Indonesia, were paid as little as €800 a month, with poor working conditions and regular 12-hour shifts. The TV company tracked down the Spanish owners as well as individual fishermen in Indonesia. The crew complained about pay being withheld, although investigations by German authorities found no evidence of illegal employment conditions.

The Pesorsa Dos is notorious in Shetland after the vessel allegedly tried to foul the propeller of the whitefish trawler Alison Kay in June 2020 (Fishing News, 25 June, 2020, ‘MCA urged to act over Shetland gear conflict’).

Alistair Carmichael said the latest revelations were further evidence of how exploitative and unsustainable a business industrial-scale gill-netting is.

“It is the total lack of moral compass in the way these people do business: in their willingness to bully small boats off their traditional fishing grounds, in their reckless disregard for fish stocks and the health of the oceans, leaving vast amounts of plastic, waste and discarded net behind, and now their willingness to exploit financially these workers from Indonesia,” he said.

Ortegal Tres on its way into Castletownbere in February, when it was detained for a range of fisheries offences. It was action by the editor of The Skipper, who alerted German news channels about the boat, that triggered the new revelations about crew treatment in the gill-net fleet. (Photo: The Skipper)

“If the environmental damage that is done by boats like this and the commercial damage to our own people is not enough to force the UK government to act, then surely now, because what we have here is just one step removed from modern slavery.

“Even if this is legislatively the responsibility of the German government, as it may be, then we need to put serious pressure on the German government to do something about this.

“We could have acted on this, but it is the indifference and the remarkable lack of curiosity that you find in enforcement agencies in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom that allows this to go undetected.

“It took the Irish to pull this boat up and for this to come to light.

“If Marine Scotland had been prepared to take a tougher line with these guys for the years that we have been asking them to do it, then it would have been a Scottish or a British enforcement agency and not an Irish one that would have brought this to light.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.50 here

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