The Scottish fisheries minister has gone on the warpath over a plan to make the country’s scallop boats report every day to the Isle of Man amid warnings it would devastate the industry.
Fergus Ewing said he was “deeply disappointed and frustrated” that his appeals to the Manx government to drop the plan had fallen on deaf ears.
Describing relations as “extremely fraught”, he said the Isle of Man government had failed to share its plans or enter negotiations and he had no option but to consider triggering a formal dispute resolution process.
This will see an independent arbiter appointed to decide which side is right, with the livelihoods of Scottish scallop trawlers and hundreds of fishermen on the line.
His outspoken intervention came the day after Finlay Carson, the Tory MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, where many of the boats are based, accused the SNP of being slow to support the industry. Kirkcudbright in his constituency is the UK’s biggest scallop port.
Stephen Girgan, an experienced skipper, told the Telegraph that the move was “dangerous” for crews, who would be forced to make needless 10-hour round trips into an island port every day.
The change will also threaten the economic viability of vessels over 12m as they may only catch a relatively small amount of scallops each day, less than required to justify the cost of the round trip.
The Manx government has announced the measure to protect stocks and prevent over-fishing. It was due to come into force on Monday but was postponed after the Scottish Government said it breached a fisheries agreement.
Geoffrey Boot, the Isle of Man’s Environment, Food and Agriculture Minister, yesterday insisted forcing boats to report every day was needed to tackle underreporting of catch.
He said that his government had taken account of Mr Ewing’s concerns and modified arrangements so that vessels can return to their home ports and report their catches electronically, if their trips are confined to Manx waters.
But Mr Ewing rejected his offer, saying: “We have put forward a number of alternative measures that would ensure sustainable fishing, and be more targeted, proportionate and, importantly, not disadvantage any one sector of vessels.
“I am deeply disappointed and frustrated that the Isle of Man Government has not listened to these alternatives or our concerns which is why I have been left with no option but to consider invoking the dispute resolution process as set out in the Fisheries Management Agreement.”
He added: “I would urge the Isle of Man Government to come to Scotland for further discussions as we cannot accept such an obviously restrictive measure that would damage our crews carrying out their legitimate fishing activities.”
The Scottish Government has complained it only found out about the move on December 22 when it was informed by the scallop industry, which is worth around £3 million in Scotland.
Its officials have argued with their Manx counterparts the change raises “significant” health and safety concerns, has a “clear discriminatory impact” on Scottish vessels and has not undergone the proper consultation process.
They have also claimed that the measure is “fundamentally flawed” as it will not prevent the misreporting of scallop catch and accused Mr Boot of rejecting an invitation for talks in Edinburgh next week.
But he said he was entitled to take “all appropriate action to ensure that reporting of catches is accurate” and “will not hesitate to prosecute any breach of the rules in place to protect our stocks.”
Mr Boot added: “We have noted the concerns that were raised by Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing and have modified arrangements so that vessels can return to their home ports – the catch will be reported electronically. We will not tolerate damaging the future sustainability of our fishing grounds and believe that the steps we have taken will help protect them.”