Thousands of offences by Scottish fishing industry escape fines

fish trawl discards fisheries

Evidence that thousands of offences by Scottish fishing boats have gone unpunished has prompted accusations that the industry is being “let off the hook” by the Scottish Government.  This article from The Ferret highlights the investigation.

An investigation by The Ferret has uncovered official figures suggesting that on average more than 1,700 offences a year have resulted in just 24 fines of £2,000 each. The vast majority of fishermen were given no more than a verbal or written warning, even if they were repeat offenders.

Environmental campaign groups warned of a “culture of non-compliance” causing fish illegally trawled from conservation areas to be sold alongside legal catches – so-called “grey fish” – and damage the reputation of Scottish seafood. According to the government, however, most of the offences were “minor”.

Data released by the Scottish Government to the European Union’s court of auditors showed that inspectors found 5,150 infringements of fishing regulations by the Scottish fishing industry from 2013 to 2015. This is an average of 1,717 infringements a year over three years.

The regulations include limits on catches and quotas from particular fisheries to conserve stocks. There are also rules restricting access to certain waters at different times, as well as controls and technical measures to limit fishing capacity and the use of vessels and gear.

The EU auditors pointed out that 169 of Scotland’s 2,000 fishing boats each had more more than five infringements between 2013 and 2015. This was a much higher proportion than fishing boats in Spain, France or Italy, they said.

The number of fines imposed in Scotland was “very small”, the auditors observed. “In practice, most of the action taken following infringements involved advisory letters and verbal and written warnings,” they added.

“These ‘soft measures’ were applied even in cases of serious infringements (e.g. catching fish after the closure of the respective fishery) and the measures did not seem to prevent recurrence.”

fishing, trawling, boat, MPA

Inspection efforts and coverage in Scotland were higher than in other countries, but the re-offending rate by the fishing industry was greater. This indicated that Scotland’s sanctions were “less dissuasive”, the auditors concluded.

The Scottish Government has also released information about fines imposed on the fishing industry under the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2013 and related legislation. It shows that boats were fined an average of just over £2,000 for 96 offences from 2014 to 2017.

The offences included breaching quotas, under-declaring catches, landing undersize fish, fishing in closed areas and electric fishing for razor clams. In ten cases the fines were only paid after a prosecution, another five prosecutions were unsuccessful and seven court cases were listed as “ongoing”.

The average number of fines imposed per year was 24, with 16 in 2014, 18 in 2015, 39 in 2016 and 23 in 2017. But according to campaigners, far more offences escape punishment because of “soft prevention” by the government’s Marine Scotland.

“The vast majority of skippers are getting off with just a written warning,” said Nick Underdown from the environmental group, Open Seas. “These figures indicate a culture of non-compliance, the exact opposite of what we need.”

He pointed out that nearly a third of inspections had found infringements of fishing rules. “Fishing offences are a serious matter as they risk undermining the health of our seas and consumer confidence,” he argued.

“People expect seafood to be sustainably and legitimately caught. They do not expect there to be any risk that the prawns on their plates could have been illegally trawled out of a marine protected area,” Underdown added.

“At the moment, illegally-landed seafood is entering the wholesale markets, mixing with legal sources and greying the whole supply chain. This grey fish is damaging the reputation of the Scottish seafood.”

Read more at The Ferret.

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