Oh, here's another!!
Finnie backtracks on fisheries deal
ROSS Finnie, the minister for the environment, was yesterday forced into an embarrassing about-turn over the fisheries deal he signed in December.
Mr Finnie has accepted he will have to go back to the European Union to "tidy up" the agreement because of "unforeseen consequences".
In a convoluted statement issued by Mr Finnie last night, he stated: "It would be appropriate for us to suggest that we appear to have evidence that the way in which some of the detail has been drawn gives rise to an unintended consequence."
Last night, the SNP seized on the admission, claiming Mr Finnie’s statement indicated nothing more than a need to renegotiate the deal.
Richard Lochhead, the SNP’s fisheries spokesman, said: "The Executive has been forced to admit that far from being a victory, this deal is a disaster for our fishing industry.
"Mr Finnie is now talking of reopening the deal. Whether he calls that a re-negotiation or a tidying up really doesn’t matter. What is important is that he dumps this disastrous deal and allows our fishing communities access to our traditional fishing grounds."
The move came as Scottish fishermen were preparing to sacrifice the entire white-fish fleet in a major rebellion against the draconian catch regime signed up to by Mr Finnie.
Skippers are planning to ignore the new permit system, controlling the parts of the North Sea in which they can make their catches, when the new restrictions come into force on 1 February, in an unprecedented display of defiance which could effectively bankrupt the fleet within two or three months.
If the decision by fishermen to defy the new permit system - which applies only to British white-fish vessels - goes ahead, it will result in the fleet being deemed to have exhausted its annual mainstay haddock quota by the end of March, forcing the 120-strong fleet to be tied to the quayside for the rest of the year.
Mike Park, the president of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association (SWFPA), said the fleet had been left with no choice but to take protest action, which could seal the fleet’s fate within weeks instead of suffering a slow and lingering death.
He declared: "This new regime will destroy us. We will not be breaking the law as such but deliberately allowing the system to stack up against us.
"We are willing to sacrifice the fleet for a point of principle." Under the new system, only British vessels, the vast majority from Scotland’s white-fish fleet, will have to work under a permit system to catch their haddock quota, which was increased by more than 60 per cent this year.
They can only land 25 per cent of the quota in designated cod-sensitive zones and the remaining 75 per cent outside the conservation areas.
Mr Park explained: "If we don’t adhere to the permit system, everything we catch will be deemed to have come out of the designated areas and it won’t take long to fish 25 per cent of the annual quota because more than 70 per cent of our normal haddock catch comes from the designated areas in any case.
"In effect, come March or April, there will be no quota left in the designated areas and the authorities will have no option but to shut the North Sea down to us."
Mr Park rebuffed suggestions that the fleet was simply sealing its own fate in a futile gesture, claiming: "We can’t survive with the system as it is.
"We have been given 66 per cent more quotas but we have been effectively thrown out of two-thirds of the area where we catch our quotas, and we are limited to 15 days a month at sea in any case.
"The fleet will go bankrupt unless the regime is completely revamped."
Mr Park revealed that a leading Scottish trawling company, with a fleet of 36 vessels, had already warned they would have to tie up 18 of their boats this year in the hope of remaining viable.
He said: "We should be reaping the benefits of increased stocks, but the fleet is going to be destroyed because of this absurd management system."
Mr Park also laid the blame for the latest crisis at the door of Mr Finnie and Ben Bradshaw, the UK fisheries minister.
He claimed they had brokered the conservation area deal at last month’s meeting of the European Fisheries Council in a misguided move to secure additional quotas for the British fleet, without realising the consequences.
Leaders of the SWFPA will meet in Banff on Monday to finalise details of the permit revolt.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, meanwhile, is to seek the opinion of a leading QC
on possible moves to take court action against the alleged discrimination they face under the new catching curbs.