The UK Government’s Fishing Minister, George Eustice, has pledged to work with the Scottish Government to support Shetland fishermen in their difficulties over Spanish gillnet vessels.
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael and a delegation from the Shetland Fishermen’s Association met the Minister to discuss the concerns of whitefish skippers at the expansion of gillnet vessels to the northwest of Shetland. The delegation from Shetland included: Leslie Tait, Chairman of the Shetland Fishermen's Association; Gordon Irvine, skipper of the Defiant; and James Anderson, skipper of the Alison Kay.
Around half a dozen gillnet vessels are now operating in the sea area between 6 and 40 nautical miles to the northwest of Shetland. With each vessel setting lines of nets in arrays between 25 and 35 nautical miles long, this can exclude local and mainland Scottish whitefish vessels from very large areas of their traditional fishing grounds.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Carmichael said:
“Shetland boats are being pushed out of grounds that they have fished in for decades. This cannot be allowed to continue. Not only does this damage the commercial interests of our local fleet it is dangerous. Left unaddressed it is only a matter of time until there is an accident.
“George Eustice has undertaken to work with the Scottish Government to see the conclusion of a voluntary agreement which would allow Shetland fishermen to work in their traditional fishing grounds in which they are currently being excluded by Spanish-owned gillnet ships.
“It seemed a few years ago that an agreement was achievable but unfortunately talks broke down. We now need to get the governments in Edinburgh and London back to the negotiating table and make it clear that a deal must be done that allows our local fleet to continue to fish in its traditional waters.
“Although the lead must be taken by Marine Scotland in brokering this deal the talks should also include the UK Government and possibly even the European Commission. The legalities are complex but the issue is a simple one – local boats should not be pushed out in this way.”