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New threats to fishing fleets dropped
Fisheries negotiations on new technical conservation measures concluded in Brussels early on Saturday morning.
Responding to the outcome, Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead joined the Scottish fishing industry in expressing relief that proposed new regulations from the European Commission were thrown out in favour of continuing existing rules.
However, measures that put severe catch composition rules on whitefish vessels operating on the West Coast - adopted on an emergency basis last year - are to be extended up to a further 18 months.
Mr Lochhead branded the decision "extremely disappointing and a serious breach of faith". He added that the proposal to extend the West Coast measures was out of the blue, and "the worst possible example of the Common Fisheries Policy's failings".
The UK Government fully shared the Scottish Government's concerns. When it became clear that the new technical conservation regulation was not going to get support from Member States, the Commission proposed rolling over the existing regulation.
This unexpectedly included prolonging measures on the West Coast instead of being allowed to expire - as promised to Scotland last year.
The UK, backed by the Scottish Government, therefore took the highly unusual step of voting against the final package.
Speaking from Brussels, Mr Lochhead said:
"Many of the real threats that our fishermen were facing coming into these talks have been averted. For example our valuable prawn fleets are no longer facing the prospect of new draconian technical measures in 2010. And changes to fishing gear that would have impacted on both viability and safety have been averted.
"However, the industry's huge sigh of relief following the removal of new threats to their future was quickly soured. A number of West Coast fishermen now have to live with unworkable catch rules for another 18 months when they were only supposed to be emergency measures that would expire next month.
"Given that these measures were supposed to be in place for one year and we were working with the industry on a new regime to replace it, this appalling decision amounts to a serious breach of faith by Commissioner Borg. Scotland's fishermen have just witnessed the micro-managing and broken Common Fisheries Policy at its very worst.
"Scotland, working alongside the UK, felt so strongly about the proposal that for the first time in memory the UK voted against the final package on the table.
"For the Commission to effectively claim that they couldn't even negotiate on their own proposal defies logic. The decision-making process has been deeply frustrating. I find it shameful that some of those involved in the process were more concerned with reaching a deal which would allow them to get the next flight home as opposed to properly considering the ramifications for Scottish livelihoods."
November Council was initially focussed on negotiating a new Technical Conservation Regulation to simplify existing rules. It is a highly complex piece of legislation that prescribes mesh size, catch composition and gear types that vessels are allowed to use. This has been delayed for the time being.
Measures in relation to fishing on the West Coast of Scotland were adopted on an emergency basis last year as part of the deal reached at December Council and were specifically to be for one year only. They are likely to have caused excessive levels of discards of haddock as fishermen attempt to comply with the catch composition rules, forcing them to discard lots of fish for which they actually have quotas.